Posts filed under: Podcast

UAC 179 | 2020 Reflections


After the long year that is 2020, we’re finally beginning anew with 2021. What better way to kick off the new year than a good processing of the things that happened and what is to come? Starting the show this 2021 with a Couch Conversations episode, Thane Marcus Ringler brings in his wife, Evan Ryan Ringler, to talk about their 2020 reflections, some words of the year, facing anxiety, and questions to ponder for this new year. Evan shares how she learned what peace looks like even amidst the uncertainties of last year and how they each overcome the anxieties often brought on by society’s expectations. Looking forward, Thane and Evan then talk about their plans for 2021 and what they hoped for as they take on the challenges that are to come.

Listen to the podcast here:

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179: Couch Conversations with Evan Ryan Ringler: 2020 Reflections, Words Of The Year, Facing Anxiety, And Questions To Ponder For 2021 This is a show all about learning how to live a good life. The process of becoming, the process of learning that hopefully, we’re in our entire lives. We believe that it takes living with intentionality, having intention in the tension as my Cofounder Adam coined as our mantra. Living with intentionality are the reason behind what we do. We get to do that every single week. Every Wednesday mornings, new episodes drop, where we interview other up and comers of all ages and stages in life that we can learn from, as well as some fellowship episodes, which are peer-to-peer conversations. We hash out different subjects and themes that we’re thinking through. Finally, there are shorter solo episodes where I share a few things that I’ve been stewing on. Before we get to the episode, there are few things that I would ask of you.

passing There are three easy ways to help our show. If you did one of them, that would be such a gift and a blessing to us at the show. The first and easiest is leaving a rating and review on Balqash Apple Podcasts . It’s super simple, super quick, and takes about a minute. If you leave a five-star rating and a review, it may get read on air and get some airtime. The second easy way is sharing this episode with someone in your community, whether that be snapping a screenshot and texting it to a couple of friends or sharing on socials by tagging us at @TheUpAndComersShow. We’re on all the socials. That’s a great way to get the word out. Word of mouth is the best form of spreading the good word.

Finally, if you want to support us financially, that would be a huge help as the show is an expense now and not an income or a profit. We would love your help in covering those expenses that are every week to put on this show. We believe in it and I know you do too. Thank you for being a part of it, for being a fellow up and comer, and supporting us in one of those ways. That is a sweet gift as we head into 2021. As you may have already guessed, you can welcome with me, my lovely wife, Evan Ryan Ringler. Welcome back to another couch conversation.

Thanks for having me.

It’s always a pleasure. As we were talking about beforehand, I’m throwing down an episode here to kick off the new year. We were thinking that maybe it’d be helpful for us to process 2020 and 2021 together impromptu to see if it’d be helpful for the readers. Also, to share our hearts, and process it because it will be helpful for us. That’s what we had talked about a little bit.

UAC 179 | 2020 Reflections

Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality

I love the idea of you get what you get with this. We haven’t rehearsed. I don’t even know what we’re going to talk about. That’s what I would want in something that I’m listening to. What do they think? How are they processing this? What are their first initial thoughts? What’s the candid answer is what I’m getting at. We are human beings, flawed, capable, and all the things.

Where I’d like to start is what I’d lost track of near the end of 2020 which is the word of the year. I don’t remember what your word of the year is. My word of the year was adventure.

You could have asked me that and I could have told you that.

What’s your word of the year?


I’ll give you some time to think because I journaled about it a little bit so I can answer first. I’m curious to hear how the word took different shapes and forms throughout the year for you. What have you learned about that word or the different contexts of that word, even through what God brought in your life? When I was sitting with that question myself, it was interesting to see how adventurous 2020 was. As I thought about this word adventure and how it played out. It started out with the adventure of planning our future lives together as we were engaged, but not yet married. We’re working on and figuring out what that would look like, when’s the best timing, elopement plans, and all that.

UAC 179 | 2020 Reflections

You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter

It came time for the elopement and the move, and then COVID happened all at once. That was a wild, crazy adventure. There were a lot of hiccups. If you listened to our couch conversation before, you’ve heard the whole story. We won’t regurgitate it. Go check out the video though, if you haven’t yet. That’s on the socials. It’s on on the Who I Am page. The wild adventure of our honeymoon in North Carolina with everything shutting down. It was like a ghost town everywhere in national parks. The early days of COVID in America were wild, and then coming back to Denver, partially moving into our place, then getting a new home, moving and finding. That was a wild adventure. We’re discovering a new city, trying to find a new church, develop a new community, all in the midst of a year that no one expected. Talk about an adventure in that.

All the way through the end of 2020, the adventure hasn’t stopped in many ways. It continued. I love the framework. I wish I would have been more conscious of that word. Until the last quarter of 2020, I lost touch with that word, to be honest with you. I wish I would’ve kept it more in front of my mind because it is such a helpful, simple framing of a mindset that changes every situation. There are a lot of things that are challenging, but when they’re viewed as an adventure, it changes the mood of it. I want to take that forward with me for sure, but I see when it’s constant or more continual throughout the year, it becomes harder for it to be an adventure because it’s more changed. We’re used to change at that point. It sets in but it was interesting for me to think on that.

What a great word for a crazy unprecedented year.

God knew way more about that word than I did at that time.

When I heard you say that word for 2020, I was like, “The adventure of marriage,” but little did I know what else was coming. I’m not sure but tell me if you think this is fair. I think it’s fair to say I’m prone to experiencing anxiety or my body is used to that now. Our dating story was quick, furious, and wonderful all at the same time. This is outlined in our story, so I won’t rehash all of it, but I experienced a lot of, “Am I what’s best for Thane?” Those doubting thoughts. Even though God had affirmed over and over, “This is who I have for you.” I thought going into the year I wanted and want still to embody peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and I love that imagery.

[bctt tweet=”Without peace and hope, how do you get up and function?” username=”upandcomersshow”]

With that, I feel going into our marriage, I think that was fitting or suited. At that time, we couldn’t have drawn up a more chaotic time to merge our lives. I feel that’s a little bit of God’s humor too. I felt that strengthened my faith and we can’t control much of anything. Peace in that and once COVID got into full swing, just peace in the unknowns. I’m a deep feeler. An empath is what some people would say for that. To give some explanation to that, I feel deeply with people and I almost embody what they’re feeling. I can be super tired at the end of the day and not know why I’m tired. I’ve sat all day because I was feeling with this person. That’s excitement too.

With the swings of COVID, I was feeling like I can’t hug on my grandparents, and more so they can’t be hugged by anyone. Seeing how it affected people in their work. I feel peace was fitting in that realm. I started volunteering at a homeless resource center for women and children in the second half or the last quarter of 2020. Peace in that too, knowing that God loves these people and so do I. How can I embody peace for them? What can I learn from them? Peace is the underlying thing that keeps me grounded in what enables me to learn.

If I’m trying to control the situation or I hate that they’re sleeping on the street, it takes away from who they are as a person. I see more of their circumstances. Coming through the end of 2020 with a lot of loss in our family and friends. Knowing ultimately that peace is what carries us through this life. I’ve told Thane a few times in 2020 that I do not understand, without peace and hope, how do you get up and function? Life is hard and can be confusing. All that to say, I’ve been learning that Jesus is peace. God is peace. That’s been a sweet learning curve for me because peace isn’t just a feeling.

That makes me wonder and curious about how you would describe peace with it not being a feeling. The second part is, what helps, creates, or produces peace for you and how you’ve experienced it?

I put my foot in my mouth a little bit. Peace is a feeling. At the end of it, it’s a sense of calm and reassurance or assurance. For me, I feel and believe more importantly that God is peace. When I am more externally focused instead of internally or intrinsically looking at myself or what I’m feeling. When I’m looking to God and saying, “What do you have today?” I trust who you are and what you’ve promised and spoke. That shifts your perspective and focus. Tangibly, I didn’t touch on this, but with experiencing anxiety around flying, which is a little humorous because I love to fly and traveling.

UAC 179 | 2020 Reflections


Metaphorically with snowboarding, there’s a part where you have to say, “F it. I’m going to turn the board down the mountain and I could eat.” You have to do that to get going. With that, I feel tangibly peace has been, “What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen here? I have to get off the plane.” I’m still going to take a step forward and you’ve been so helpful in that. It’s helping me embody courage to say, “A step forward is a step forward.” Even if it seems like a step back, if I have to get off the plane, I was still going through the motions of getting on the plane. For the readers who do experience anxiety, the most frustrating part about it is I’ve never even had to get off the plane, but that’s what I think would be the worst part. It’s logical and irrational.

It made me think of a clip of Seth Godin on Tim Ferriss’ show. He was good at talking about anxiety and he framed it as fear of future failure. That’s how we could describe it in other terms because it is an imagined future failure. There’s a fear that comes up around that and it feels real, not imagined. We experience it in real ways. It’s not imagined in that sense, but it often involves future events and us failing at those future events.

My dad always says, “You can imagine a situation a million times, and it never turns out that way,” which is usually right.

That’s not to discredit in any way. It’s to put language around it in ways that people can understand. It’s real. I’ve learned that more through us than before, which is cool. We talked about this a little bit. Every human experience anxiety to greater and lesser extents, more or less often in certain situations. It’s variable. Everyone knows the feeling. The most intense period I had was when I had the yips for a week or two playing golf professionally right before the biggest tournament in my career. That was an intense anxiety that I sleep great, but I wasn’t sleeping great that week because it was all-pervasive.

To encourage anyone who has experienced anxiety, taking these steps forward and saying, “Even if it’s one thing now that I’m going to make progress on, that will be enough.” That peace theme shines through and has shown through with my journey of experiencing anxiety. God and Jesus is bigger than any circumstance. I now have some practical language around my process in it. All of that to say, there’s a way through.

[bctt tweet=”“You can imagine a situation a million times, and it never turns out that way.”” username=”upandcomersshow”]

Let’s put a pause on the reflection projection time, and let’s focus on that for a second. Let’s say someone’s reading now and they experienced anxiety much more present than most people in their life. It’s crippling and they don’t know what to do. How would you frame it? How would you present it? What encouragements would you give to someone in that place?

First things first, I hate that for them. I would never wish the experience of intense anxiety like that on anyone. It’s horrible. A disclaimer, this is my first time hashing this out. Sorry if it’s rough. I would say first, “I’m sorry.” My process has been first to own it and say, “What is this?” Name it, own it, and say, “I experienced anxiety sometimes.” Something that’s been helpful as an aside is I don’t say, “I have anxiety.” I say, “I experienced anxiety.” Those are different.

To further clarify that point because that’s one of the most important ones. There are several books that helped with that. One was Awareness by Anthony de Mello. He has some great points on it. The other one was You Are the Placebo by Dr. Joe Dispenza. The power of language and attaching emotions to our experiences, and also the way we think about things changes a lot of experiences in our body. All that to say by disassociating our identity with something we experience, we’re able to gain a lot of power or leverage over that.

As much as like when I hit a bad golf shot, the worst thing you can do is say, “You’re horrible. That was such a terrible shot. You’re a horrible player.” That’s our instinct and our default. We beat ourselves up because it feels good, but it’s not helpful. It’s a downward spiral. It’s digging a grave or digging a deeper pit for us to try to climb out of. In a similar sense, when we say, “I am anxious. I have anxiety,” it’s not something that you possess. It’s something you’re experiencing and that’s a big difference.

“I have anxiety,” seems more long-term or definite. As you were talking, I wonder how much of that we put on ourselves like, “Everyone around me thinks that’s a bad shot. I need them to know that I know that was a bad shot.” That’s like the narrative with the anxiety of, “I don’t want to be anxious, but all these people think I’m anxious.” In actuality, no one knows and no one cares.

UAC 179 | 2020 Reflections


To flush out the flying one a little bit more. As we learned about later in 2020 as we’ve been working on things in that arena, the biggest stimulant for that anxiety for you is the people around us, and how they see your view or remember you for whatever may transpire. That’s true with me in the golf course too. I tell myself that when I’m by myself too, but those expectations of myself are informed by the expectations of others for myself too. They’re almost inextricably linked. They’re bound together and almost become the same thing.

I said to name it, own it, and then figure out a path forward. That’s vague and I don’t like it when people are vague to me. Let me try to get a little clearer. Try to understand the root of what it is. After hashing this out a few times, I know that my experience of anxiety around flying originated when I was on a plane on our way to the Suite-16, when I went to the school at the University of Arkansas and played soccer there. My classes were ending that same week. I knew this was one of our last games, if we continued on, we’d have four more games. I knew up until that point, my 23 years of life, my identity was coming to an end all in one weekend.

I’m no longer was a good soccer player. I didn’t have that arena and also the school was done. I wasn’t a good student. On the flight, we had a lot of turbulence. We were sitting by the bathroom. It wasn’t pleasant. I remember this overwhelming feeling. That’s what I pinpointed it back to. Get to the root of it and then figure out a way forward. Especially with flying, it’s been a process of I saw a counselor and I was like, “That was helpful,” and it wasn’t helpful. What’s another route? I talked with my doctor about medicine.

I’m grateful for my first doctor experience with medicine because she was super stingy on the meds and didn’t give them that freely, which I’m grateful for. I told her I don’t want to be dependent on anything and I believe medicine is a helpful tool. Find a way forward and take steps to, what is it that makes me anxious? It’s this. How can I put some boundaries up around this? If it’s socially, I feel this is such a beautiful example of I don’t love going into places where I don’t know people. I don’t like making that conversation because I’m analyzing what I’m saying and how is this being received. Those are things you can’t control. Having boundaries like, “I’m going to go to this for an hour and if I feel comfortable, I’m going to leave,” or having a few options, alternative routes.

Maybe you tell your roommate, “If you’ll call me at the 30-minute mark, and then an hour mark to check-in, then you know those things are coming.” You set up some boundaries and safeguards for yourself. For me now with flying, which is hilarious, I’ve enjoyed doing this. I like to introduce myself to the captain or captains and it’s been a funny process. At first, I was like, “This is embarrassing like, ‘I’m Evan and I experienced anxiety around flying.’” It’s only been that with love every time. It’s been a fun thing to do. I like to wear my Beats. I like to watch The Heat every time I fly. Figure out what works for you. Lastly, having someone walk alongside you and I feel that’s a gift.

[bctt tweet=”You can still empower other people even if their experience doesn’t look like yours.  ” username=”upandcomersshow”]

I didn’t. I had my family to some extent, but I didn’t have anyone in the thick of it with me and having a partner. Thane has been sweet to say, “I believe in you and I’m right here with you through the whole process, whatever that looks like. If we need to get off the plane, I don’t care at all.” No one else does and no one will even know what’s happening. That could look like many different people. It could be your partner or counselor. Thane won’t let me get a service animal, but we’ve had multiple people say that would be a helpful tool in flying. Honestly, I would enjoy that. We have found other tools forward, but that is a backup tool.

One other thing we’re working on too is consistent exposure. As you said, I’m working on the steps to move forward on, it is a progression. Knowing what’s helpful and what’s not takes time. Sometimes it means falling on your face before you can keep walking forward. You have to fall down quite a few times before you walk and you have to accept that. That’s how we all learn. Part of overcoming the experience of anxiety is learning, as much as it is doing as you talked about. As someone who hasn’t experienced it as much, from an outside perspective and I’d be curious to know your take on this, what matters is still the hope that it can be overcome. The hope that it’s not final and that this isn’t the place you’re going to be always. There are ways to improve, grow through it, embrace, and understand all those things. There are people that want to support you in that. It does take believing in that.

One of the big pushers for me, meaning one of the things that have propelled and empowered me to continue to take steps forward is knowing how many people don’t like to fly. It’s becoming aware of how many people have never even gone on an airplane. I have friends who have said, “I have no interest in flying because I’m overweight and I feel that it would be uncomfortable.” I have friends who have never flown because they’ve never had the resources and never needed to. With that, I have felt empowered to take steps forward on their behalf as well saying, “We have to make this tangible for people.” In doing so, a light has been shed on that arena or corporation.

What I’m trying to say is we have learned that there are programs for people who are overweight. You can buy two tickets. They’ll reissue you a ticket. For people who have autism, Southwest did a whole program where people with autism could board a grounded flight, meet the pilot, see the sights and sounds of the plane, and then get off. They do not do an actual flight, but that would help them get exposure which Thane touched on. I feel that God can use this and is going to use this to empower people. Even if it’s one, that’s enough.

There’s no greater motivation than to do something for others, not just yourself. We all can leverage that and use it for good. In some selfish, but also unselfish ways. Even this show at this point, it’s 50/50 or more like 70/30 me. That’s selfish because I enjoy doing it and I gained so much from doing it, but it doesn’t have to be a selfish pursuit. It’s that I get a lot from it and that’s a joy. It’s also giving people something. That’s the heart behind it. It’s amazing when you have the heart to give and benefit to others how much more you receive. That’s true in something like this in working through this experience. One of the most powerful things is I want to do this for other people that also experienced this so that they can be empowered to move forward. That’s one of the greatest motivators.

UAC 179 | 2020 Reflections


It’s beautiful. It gets you, and anxiety keeps you intrinsic and, “No one’s ever felt this before. I’m the only one. Why me?” Trust me. I’ve been there. I get it. Other people have experienced anxiety way farther degrees and way lesser degrees than I have, that doesn’t diminish their experience at all. They’ve experienced it in one way. I’ve experienced it in another. However, I’ve learned from people who have experienced anxiety that doesn’t look like mine, but their tools or process has helped me develop a process of my own. I’m trying to say that it’s not going to look the same for everyone and I know that. I want to encourage you that whatever it is you’re experiencing, and you are doing to seek to empower others, you can still empower other people even if their experience doesn’t look like yours.

I’m excited for more to come in that vein, maybe in the written form in 2021. What are you excited about or what excites you about 2021?

Someone told me whatever pandemic was happening at the time, that’s when the roaring twenties came forth. Everyone was going out in their best clothes and living life. I think of that, but more so I feel hopeful. I don’t feel that all the time but overarchingly, I feel hopeful. My word will be lightness. I feel 2020 has been heavy and I read something about the Enneagram ones. I’m a fiend for that. It was breaking down all of the Enneagram types and saying what you need in 2021. It said, “One needs to play,” because once your work is integrated with your home life, you’re working all the time. Which I felt a little bit, but more so I have felt the heaviness of this year. I’m looking forward to the lightness. I’m looking forward to hugging my grandparents. I’m looking forward to selfish things like going dancing with you or going to a concert with you. I’m looking forward to continued friendships in person. Virtual is fine. Many of my friends are across the world so that’s how that has to be in some sense, but I’m looking forward to more in-depth relationships that grow from in-person experiences.

I would like to see if that ends up being it or not. It makes me think of what we did, which we get to do a half-day of work and half-day in the mountains, snowboarding. It was a fun way to be light but also productive, which is a nice merger. I’m excited to keep growing deeper with you, with God, and with the people that I interact with in life where there can be a deeper impact, deeper relationships, and deeper presence. That’s one of it. I’m excited to keep building into this new place, Denver. It has been fun, but it isn’t as normal as it usually is. I’m excited for it to be more normal.

I love the freshness of the new year. It gives you a kick in the pants. We talk about this on the show of how helpful it is to have those endings and beginnings to reset internally. I’m excited to pour into some habits that have been lingering, wanting to solidify more, a consistent daily meditation practice. It’s super simple, but it has profound effects. I find a lot of excuses as we all do for not doing it. Things like that would be sweet to be more consistent with practice. A lot of the change of 2020, we’ve gotten good at change and I don’t foresee this next year holding as much change. Even if it did, I know that we’d be better equipped for it because of 2020.

[bctt tweet=”Love is helpful. It transforms, changes, empowers, hugs, and encourages.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

That excites me about how you can deepen roots. The word that has come to me more, deepen has been a word option. The other one that was more present when I was thinking about it, but not decided yet, is sustainable. This idea of sustainability or sustainable is something that I could use a lot because I don’t live life sustainably in some ways. I operate with either the pedals on the floor or the pedals not being pressed. It’s all in or not. That’s not always sustainable. Thinking about what is sustainable for us now instead of me is a different mode of thinking too. That’s been on my mind a lot.

I love that about you, Thane. It’s been sweet. I’m your number one fan. Selfishly for me, I’ve seen the way you rely on God. You’re like, “This is where I’m headed and I’m not sure.” That’s beautiful and has challenged me because I am a secular person or a control person.

It’s a good partnership. Any other questions?

For readers, how do you arrive at a word or land on a theme for the year seems a big undertaking.

It’s a fun practice. I got to give a shout out to my sister for introducing me to it many years ago. I’ve enjoyed it because it’s a lot more attainable than resolutions. You can remember it throughout the year, even when you forget it for 3 or 4 months like I did. It’s big enough to shift and shape throughout the year, but small enough to provide a focus. It suits a projection and reflection of a year’s time well. I usually sit down and journal about 2020 with the word held, how it moved and shifted, or what I learned from it. I like to sit with myself and God and be like, “What do I need for 2021?”

UAC 179 | 2020 Reflections


I jotted down half a dozen. I went and sit with the first one, “This is it.” I sat with it. I had 6 or 7 words, and then I’m going to let it sit for a few days or marinate, and see what lingers front of mind most, and then trust it. There’s so much to that gut instinct of trusting your gut. I don’t know if we talked about this earlier with John and Katie on the phone or a couple of our friends, or it was one of our conversations but when you know, you know. You know in your gut and your instinct, and a lot of times we don’t trust that as much. We second guess. Even like you knew when you were down on the slope. It was great but you knew. We have to trust that gut instinct more than we do and benefit us a lot. There’s something to sitting with something and thinking through it, and hashing out all the layers, but our gut knows best. How is your process? Is it similar or different?

We’re two different people wired two different ways. I’m much more of a feeler. I tell Thane all the time, I wish I didn’t feel as much as I feel. I wish it was a switch because it’s a lot to feel deeply. It’s a gift and a curse sometimes. With that, I feel my dialogue with God is ongoing. He’s speaking into themes or affirming things or saying, “No, that’s not from me.” I don’t like when people are vague, but this is kind of vague in the sense of it’s a feeling. It’s also been a theme that’s been affirmed all year like, “This feels heavy.” I said that a lot in 2020 or, “I wish I wasn’t feeling as much as I’m feeling now.” That’s not to say my feelings will shut off in 2021, but how can I be light in it. I think God does want us to enjoy this life now also while we’re looking forward to what’s to come too. My process is different and it’s a little more ongoing. Not to say yours isn’t. We parallel a little bit in that. Honestly, it does me some good to sit, meditate, and pray on it. Mine’s more of a feeling.

I’m excited for these words now that we’re going to shift and move throughout the year. If you had to end with one last question, if you had to say that we’re sitting on this couch a year from now, looking back at 2021, what would we want to say about who we were and what we did in that year? Is there anything that you want to say about the year 2021?

In the spirit of keeping it light, I would hope to say that I was more open to hearing, to listening, to seeing the other. I would hope to say that we laughed more, that I understand God in a new way, that I experience God in a new way, that His peace was overwhelming. I would also hope that my experience with anxiety has taken a new shape or empowered even one other person. That’s been a theme in 2020 too of if it’s for the one, it’s enough. Sometimes I feel like that one is me and God is meeting me, and that’s been cool. We live in a world of followers, numbers, and what is my value here? I love Jesus’s model so much of the one. If it’s for the one, that’s enough. He pursues all of us and that is beautiful. That’s the same. I hope my experience of anxiety has taken a new shape. What about you?

I got to think through it a little bit more while you were answering. The core of it would be that I lived and operated from a place of humility. Meaning not thinking more of myself than I should. I’ve loved people well. That is the core of what I want in a year. I wouldn’t say that I do a bad job of that, but I can always do a better job of that. To be able to look back on a year and think that I did a good job of that would be special because we are our worst critics. My heart is that I want to be helpful to myself and others, and love does that.

Love is helpful. It transforms, changes, empowers, hugs, and encourages. It’d be sweet to end the year saying that. That takes loving myself first with receiving God’s love first for myself and giving it to others. That comes through those daily practices like meditation, time in prayer, time in presence, reading, journaling, and things like self-care. Those things are vital to it. Those are all parts of it. That’s a cool thing to think about because I haven’t thought about that before. It’s a great mission for the year ahead. Here’s to 2021.

I’m grateful to know you, Thane Ringler.

I’m grateful to be your partner. This is kicking off 2021. If you have any questions, thoughts, or comments about anything we’ve talked about or want to get in touch in general, you can always send us an email at We love hearing from you. Don’t forget to rate and review, share it with a couple of friends, and donate on Patreon.

We hope you have an up and coming day.

This is Thane here following up with one last thing to note. If you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once a month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.

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UAC 178 | Year Ender Episode


With the rocky year that is 2020 coming to an end, we look upon 2021 full of hope and positive expectations. In this year-ender episode, Thane Marcus Ringler looks back on everything that happened this year, focusing on both the good and the bad. He reflects on how change and commitment go hand in hand if we expect to find true progress and growth. Thane also emphasizes the importance of motivating oneself to do greater things by gathering the lessons of our previous chapters as we start a brand new page.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”178: Goodbye 2020″]

178: Goodbye 2020

Are you a person who knows they need more discipline in their life but don’t know what to do or how to get there? I am with you. Discipline feels like this mystical thing that successful people or people we look up to have, but we never know how to acquire it on our own for ourselves. I’m here to tell you that discipline isn’t unattainable. It is available to anyone who is willing to put in the work. Ultimately, I’m here to tell you that discipline is worth it.

If you believe me, I’d like to encourage you to consider going on a journey with me, the journey of developing discipline. Through Thane Marcus Academy, I am now offering an eight-week course that will instill in you the discipline you desire. What does this produce? A life of never settling for less than you’re capable of? To help you take the first step, I’m offering you a special discount of 20% off by using the code, UpAndComer at checkout. Head over to to begin your journey of developing discipline.

Boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another episode of The Up & Comers Show. This is a podcast all about learning how to live a good life telling stories from people in the process of becoming. We believe that takes living with intentionality and having intention in the tension, as our mantra says. We are on this journey together and thank you so much for being a fellow up and comer with us. Hopefully, we’re on this journey our whole lives learning the entire way. If you are reading for the first time, thank you for being here. In this episode, you’re going to read a little shorter solo up but we do long-form interviews peer to peer conversations called Fellowship Episodes, as well as couch conversations and solo episodes. It’s a wide mix but the theme is always How can we learn and live in the midst of tensions well. We have great conversations and a lot of episodes to check out.

UAC 178 | Year Ender Episode


A few housekeeping requests. If you have not left us a rating and review on iTunes, that is such an easy way to help us be seen by more people on Apple Podcasts. You can go leave a rating and review. We have over 100 now we’d love to get to 200 in 2021. That’s a great way to take a minute to give back and help us with the show. Another easy way is taking a screenshot of this episode or posting it on the socials and tagging us @UpAndComersShow we’re on all the channels. You can also text it to a few people or a friend that you think of that’s a great way to spread the word. Word of mouth is an awesome way to share what we’re doing here.

Finally, financially is a great way to support. If you feel like giving to a small business or to a show like this, we are an expense and not an income now. A great way to help us cover those expenses is by supporting us on Patreon where you can make monthly donations there. You can also go to our website, where there is a place to donate as well. That is an awesome way to support us in a real tangible way of finances. That is the housekeeping that I like to share and that’s some great ways to give back and help us out.

In this episode, I’m going to wrap up 2020 with some thoughts on yours, and what I’ve learned, and what we can learn together. Before we get there, I want to celebrate where we are, as a show. This show has been going for over four years now. That’s something that I never expected saying. We have over 70,000 downloads. I’m looking at 70,732 downloads. That is special to me. Over 175 episodes and we’re listened to in over 50 countries around the world. It’s 53 at this point, I believe.

[bctt tweet=”The only things that aren’t changing are the things that aren’t living.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

Some sweet numbers and stats to remind myself of the journey that we’ve been on and that it’s worth it. There’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of effort that goes into things like podcasts. Anyone who started a podcast realizes that it takes a big undertaking to produce a show. It’s pretty simple to start but it’s a lot of work to continue doing. I’m encouraged by what four years have brought and excited to see what 2021 holds and who knows how long the years will last.

I’m grateful for the chance to talk into a microphone and share words and have you received those words. If you ever have thought comments or feedback, you can always send us an email is a great place to reach out. I received an email and it was one of those encouraging emails I’ve read all year. They’re some heartfelt words about how an episode impacted that person. It meant the world to me so those things are the fuel that helped me stay motivated and keep pushing forward with the show and the community.

I want to share a few things. I want to share how through ending a year well and beginning a year well, and some things I’ve learned from 2020 and as we say goodbye to 2020 and the year that has been unexpected for all of us. The first thing to mention is that change is inherent to life. What this means is that change is what it means to be alive. The only things that aren’t changing are the things that aren’t living. You think about the things that don’t change, it’s objects, oftentimes, but still, those can change.

UAC 178 | Year Ender Episode


Change is what is part of the nature of living and being alive. We’re either growing or decaying or somewhere in between. Change is inherent in life. We all realize that to a greater extent than ever before, now that we’ve been through 2020. The second thing is that commitment is needed in order to have that change be used for good. What this is speaking to is the idea that change and commitment are not opposed to each other. They’re not at odds with each other. They’re beneficial, helpful, and important to each other. Commitment is what allows us to stay steady and to hold fast in the midst of the sea of change that life often brings.

Every single day is different than the next and the last so we have to embrace this thing called change. In order to do that well, commitment is necessary. We must know what we are committed to in our lives and our days. By knowing what our commitments are and who we are committed to being and who we’re committed to living as we can then better embrace and accept and use those changes for good. Once we understand that commitment and change are partners in this process of life, we can then start seeing what is important in change itself. I believe that what’s important with change is recognizing where we are in the process of change. What I mean by this is recognizing that life has a rhythm to it, it has an ebb and a flow, it has ups and downs, it’s riding waves. There are waves that come in the sea of life and our goal is to ride those waves well.

Part of the way we ride those waves well is by understanding or recognizing where we are in the wave. For instance, if we use the example of climbing a mountain, we need to have the mindset that we’re gearing up for a lot of effort if we’re beginning our climb but when we’re on top of the mountain and getting ready to come down the mountain, we need to have maybe a little different mindset. When you have the mindset of gearing up for the descent of being careful on the way down may be less effort and more focus. It requires a different mindset.

[bctt tweet=”Change is recognizing where we are in the process of change.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

The point of that illustration is to say that where we are in the midst of change will dictate and determine the mindset that we need to have. The first part of having the right mindset is recognizing where we are in oftentimes, we don’t do this. It’s as simple as pausing to reflect and consider. If by infusing a little bit of space to pause, consider and ponder where we are in the ebb and flow, we can better recognize first and use it for good.

For instance, my wife and I have been realizing that in the second round of lockdowns from COVID we’re in Denver, and in the second round of fall and winter, it’s been heavier, it’s been harder for us. We felt more weight from it than we did in the first round. That’s true for most of us so this is something that you may have experienced as well. What was important in it is the fact that we recognized it and put words to it. By doing that, we were able to show ourselves more grace and show ourselves a little bit more wiggle room for maybe feeling down or being less productive or maybe feeling a little less connected to our community.

Acceptance of all those things comes from recognizing that this time around, it’s been a little harder, and that’s okay. We have to be able to recognize before we can accept it, and we can use it for good and adjust. That recognition has helped us adjust our schedule, our mindset, and our expectations of what this will have in this time of year. With this and with recognizing rhythms, the other thing that is important is that we can use each season or chapter for good. Once we recognize, we can start getting to the place of using that season or that chapter for good. A big part of that is 2020.

UAC 178 | Year Ender Episode


Seeing 2020 as a season of more change than often before, we can then start understanding, “Now that we’re in a season of greater change than usual, how can we use this greater change for good within my life and within others?” A friend also talks about it in chapters. Seasons come and go, but chapters are opening and closing and as chapters open and close, we can look back and learn from but we’re not going to be in that chapter again. That’s a great illustration as well. Each chapter is different from the rest. There is no repeating of chapters like there is repeating of seasons. Often seasons are not the same, but they can be similar but chapters have something that we can look back on and continue to learn from but each chapter is new. Both illustrations are helpful for this.

Another observation that is helpful is that the end of the year and the beginning of the year are great opportunities to be able to further recognize and use these seasons or chapters for good. What I compare it to is golf. I played golf most of my life so it’s a great illustration for most of what I think through. In golf, there are eighteen holes, there’s the front nine and the back nine. There are nine holes that are called the front nine, and the nine holes are called the back nine if you’d never played before and that’s what makes a full golf course.

In playing a round of golf, usually, you’ll go through the front nine, go in and get some snacks and go on the back nine. Something as simple as having a front nine and a back nine, this break in the midst of that eighteen-hole round, having that is such a useful tool to shift our mind and perspective during that round. There are countless experiences I’ve had in tournaments where I’m playing horribly. I have bad momentum on the front nine and something about going from hole 9 to hole 10 going from the front 9 to the back 9. There’s something about having that shift, space, and transition that allows you to shift your perspective and say goodbye to that last nine holes that were horrid and say hello to the opportunity that the next nine holes bring. To the opportunity of changing the momentum of garnering some positive momentum, and improving upon what was pretty awful before.

[bctt tweet=”We have to recognize change before we can accept it and then use it for good.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

Honestly, that shift is so helpful. It’s imaginary in some ways and since hole 9 hole 10 isn’t any different than hole 1 or hole 2 or hole 15 and hole 16 but having that known break brings so much space and room for changing your perspective. That is true of the end of the year and the beginning of the year. It’s true of the end of the month and the beginning of a new month. It’s true of the end of the week, and the beginning of a new week. It’s even true of the end of the day and the beginning of a new day. This is true in many different increments but the end of the year and the beginning of a new year is such a great opportunity to use this closing of a chapter and the opening of a new one for good.

There’s a lot of ways that we can do this and it takes intention to use it well. That is on theme with our show as you know, but ending the year and beginning a New Year well, involves intention. The question is, “What is your intention for using this closing and opening for good?” That question for self-reflection is, “How can I use this time of year for good.” That could be in your personal growth? That could be in your time with family or loved ones? Maybe it’s time spent with friends? Maybe even this year it’s time by yourself. How can you use this transition this season, this closing of a chapter and the opening of a new one, for good?

There’s a lot of ways that I like doing this and it may look different for everyone and that’s great. It shouldn’t look the same for every single person. If you want some further reflection questions, here are a few that may be helpful. One is, “How did I grow this year?” Another is, “In what ways did I fall short this year?” You can ask, “What am I hopeful for in 2021?” You could also ask yourself, “How was 2020 used for good that I didn’t expect?” Another great question is, “What have I learned this year?” These are all questions that I would encourage you to sit with and reflect on with a pen and paper. Journaling and reflecting are some of the greatest tools that we can use for growing in self-awareness and ultimately growing in who we want to be and becoming that person.

UAC 178 | Year Ender Episode


This ending of 2020 comes with a lot to think about. We’ve all been through probably more than we expected this year. It also provides a lot of hope, a lot of things that we can be hopeful, filled with hope for in the year to come. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about 2021. In 2020 we’ve been through a lot, which means we’ve likely grown a lot and in growing a lot, it provides a lot of opportunity for what we might reach into and beyond into 2021.

2021 is ahead of us. Change and commitment are part of our lives. Life has rhythms and ebbs and flows, seasons, and chapters that we can all use for good. Ending this year well and beginning the next year well takes intention and effort and we all can do that. Let’s raise our imaginary glass. Here is to a new year. 2021 full of opportunity and hope. Here’s to all that we’ve learned in 2020. I’m grateful for it. I know that God’s going to use it in big ways. Thanks for reading and I hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.

This is Thane here following up with one last thing to note. If you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once a month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.

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Entrepreneurship is such an enticing word that it can be so easy to get blinded by the name we fail to anticipate the inevitable challenges that come with it. If you plan to become an entrepreneur, this episode will get you covered on the highs and lows of this path that most people don’t realize. Thane Marcus Ringler sits down with Tyler Wilson, a speaker, mentor, and founder of Wurstküche, to discuss Tyler’s journey on helping people fall in love through his business. He talks about his experiences starting a restaurant and sausage business that pioneers a new market niche in LA, all the while overcoming adversities in his life and battling dyslexia. Having grown up in an entrepreneurial family, he also shares the lessons he has learned, dealing with operational efficiencies and turnover, the challenges with generational differences, balancing family and work life, and more. Plus, Tyler also tells us his insights into finding creative solutions to education and improving the education system and then lays down some of his cornerstone habits and self-talk that can also help you face the challenges head-on.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”177: Tyler Wilson: Helping People Fall In Love: How An Entrepreneur Overcame Adversity, Dyslexia, and More To Pioneer A New Market Niche in LA (Repost)”]

Tyler Wilson: Helping People Fall In Love: How An Entrepreneur Overcame Adversity, Dyslexia, and More To Pioneer A New Market Niche in LA (Repost)

It’s an awesome interview with a good friend of mine and a guy that you’re going to learn a lot from. It’s an interview with Tyler Wilson. Tyler Joel Wilson grew up in Santa Barbara, California as the oldest of four siblings. At a young age, Tyler was diagnosed with dyslexia, leading his family to travel around California and Hawaii to best support his development. Being born into an entrepreneurial family, Tyler began his first business at the age of five selling his grandpa’s oranges on the street corner making up to $100 a day.

As a high schooler at age fifteen, Tyler began his first real business, Turtles Frozen Drinks, renting out margarita blenders for private parties throughout the Santa Barbara area. Through his athletic accomplishments in both water polo and swimming, Tyler was accepted to the University of Southern California. After finding a way to enroll in USC Business School, Tyler left USC four years later with no degree but having a business education that would allow him to push forward with his professional goals.

In 2008, at 22 years old, Tyler cofounded and opened Wurstküche in Downtown Los Angeles with his cousin, Joseph Pitruzzelli, selling exotic gourmet sausages paired with Belgium and German beers. Wurstküche quickly established itself as one of the top restaurant destinations in the city. Tyler and Joseph opened a second location in Venice back in 2011. Tyler regularly speaks on entrepreneurship across the country, including on the USC campus to both undergrad and graduate students.

He also mentors high school students who are interested in business. Tyler resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and their four children. He has a full life and it’s been impressive to see what he’s been able to do with his partner in many years. It’s an amazing place. I’ve gotten to enjoy their food and their space. They call it fun casual. He pioneered a market niche. This interview is a gem. We talk a ton about entrepreneurship.

If you’re business-minded or into entrepreneurial things, this is something you definitely want to read. We talk a lot about the journey, the highs and the lows and the things that most people don’t realize about trying to do anything as challenging as starting a restaurant. We talk a lot about family, finding a balance and having four kids by the age of 30. We talk about generations and differences in hiring. Without further ado, please enjoy this interview with Tyler Wilson.

Tyler Wilson, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Thane. I’m excited to be here.

We are both excited to be here. What was it like having a pool party in a dumpster in the middle of Downtown LA?

This was a fun afternoon. I decided with a couple of people to open a coffee shop knowing nothing about coffee. I had some extra time on my hands or didn’t but made some. With a great group of people, we opened the coffee shop. The first week, we decided we needed to do something fun. We had always heard about these dumpster pools that people would build in New York. We’re like, “That would be fun.” We’re in a desert in the middle of a drought. We might as well go rent a dumpster and we filled it up. We lined it with plastic, filled it up with water and spent the whole afternoon swimming in a dumpster with blow-up pool toys.

Did you get any random strangers to hop in?

It was a 100-degree day in Downtown. I was in there, throwing kids around, playing. Random people would walk by with their clothes on and be like, “This is cool,” and they hopped in, fully clothed.

[bctt tweet=”Life is just a roller-coaster of emotions.  ” via=”no”]

Where was it? Was it right in front of the coffee shop?

It was on the Third Street in Downtown LA.

Some other fun facts from some research I did. I’ve found out that you’re quite the expert in the right way to cut things. First off is rose bushes and there’s a right and a wrong way. Fill us in a little bit on what it takes to cut a rose bush well.

I’m still mastering this technique or would like to get better and make more time. A rose bush cut incorrectly ultimately dies or becomes a little rose. It gives you little flowers or a snarly mess. Most people end up with a snarly unhealthy rose bush. When you have roses, you might as well make them look beautiful. I have been paranoid about my roses. They don’t look good yet, but the idea of cutting them and creating this nice three-prong growth so there’s plenty of space and new growth, getting out the old flowers at the right length, cutting right above where there should be new growth and coaching the rosebush.

What are the most common mistakes that people make?

What a lot of rushed people or rushed gardeners might do is cut it more a hedge or a bush and give it a haircut, whereas you need to be more strategic, get in there, and think about each bush. You got to be careful because they’ve got big old thorns. You might have to reach your hand in. If you do that, you get big, beautiful flowers all year round especially in California.

The other ones that I’ve heard are avocados and mangoes. Fill me in.

I’m wondering who you learned this one from. If you give most people an avocado, you get back guacamole even if the goal is not guacamole. This idea of having a knife and using it correctly to get perfect pieces of a beautiful fruit so you can put it on a burger, on top of eggs or not use a spoon. It’s a sharp knife, peeling it correctly and having gentle hands but strong enough to get the skin off and making perfect slices. It tastes better, it looks better, and it’s not all crushed on your plate like, “What is this mess?”

I’ve been teaching all my kids and roommates how to correctly cut avocados. I learned from my dad who eats four avocados a day. I remember watching him when I was little and he’d be cutting eight grapefruits and four mangoes every night for us. If you’ve ever cut a grapefruit, it takes forever to get each little section out perfectly. You’d watch a mango and I used to be like, “How do you do that?” I’d try and do it and then hack it. At this point, I’ve got good at peeling a mango and getting perfect slices quickly.

I’ve been getting into avocados and I’m starting to work on my cuts there a little bit, which has been nice but it is like a dance. I definitely agree with that. We’re off to a good start here. One of the things I like to ask people is what their superpower is. There were some themes but the one that I could see is Aquaman. How do you feel about them stealing your thunder by coming out of that movie? You may be the original Aquaman.

I heard this movie is good. Growing up, I was in the water six hours a day. I was a decent water polo player and a swimmer at one point in my life. The water is fun. It naturally became my sport in all aspects. I’m excited that there’s a movie about it but I have no reference to it or whatsoever. I have no clue what it’s about.

UAC 177 | New Market Niche

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It

It’s a superhero underwater. One of the mutual friends said, “Get him out of the water and it gets a little unorthodox but in the water, he’s not human.” Enough one-offs. I want to zone in here a little bit. Let’s start with why sausages? What do you love about sausages?

If you look at sausages in the world, it’s one of those things that most cultures have. In addition to that, everybody eats them. There have been a number of vegetarians that has changed in the last few years but most people eat sausages, even at this point, vegetarian sausages. In general, sausages are associated with some of our best holidays, particularly in America. You think about the 4th of July, Super Bowl or Veteran’s Day, we’re celebrating together and sausages or hotdogs are a huge part of it. It’s American and influenced by our heritage. When you looked at the sausage restaurants out there, they’re always busy and bustling. Rich people are eating them with poor. They’re enjoying them together and it’s attainable, and full of flavor. It’s a fun thing to think about.

The context is you own a restaurant that has featured sausages from day one and continues to do that. I’ve read a lot of the background. It wasn’t necessarily the original idea to have it be a sausage specific place. In light of that, did you already love them at the start? Have you fallen more in love with them through the years?

Without question, I’ve fallen more in love with them because I’ve had so much opportunity to work with them, make them, and learn about them. I remember growing up, we had this market called the Summerland Market which was owned by a Swiss guy. He would make sausages. He had been making sausages forever. He ended up working in this little Summerland Market until he died. He’s the grocer, and his wife was at the register. The shelves and cans are dusty but they had amazing sausages, and everybody in town knew how good their sausages were. I remember when we had those sausages for dinner, I always loved it. It was an easy dinner. We’ll pick up sausages, we’ll barbecue them, and have them at home. I was like, “That was delicious. This is cool.” Joseph’s partner had similar experiences as well on sausages. We both had a mutual love for sausages growing up.

Fill us in on how you say the name because I still am horrible at that. Where it comes from and then how you would describe the business. What do you describe it as to people?

I’m bad at the name as well. The challenge with the name is different regions of Germany don’t even say it similar and I don’t have any clout to argue with anybody. Wurstküche, Wurst is a sausage and kuche is kitchen. The translation is a sausage kitchen and how you say it is less important. We’re purveyors of exotic grilled sausages and a German beer hall. We serve amazing sausages and experience that you will hopefully not forget.

That is a specific and succinct way to describe the experience that we do have. I’ve been there multiple times and it’s a great place. If you had to give a 50,000-foot view of those years, how would you give the rundown of it? What was the experience like and how did that journey go from that high picture perspective over those years?

Looking back at those years, it was a roller coaster. I’m sure many other builders out there can recognize at a certain point that life is a roller coaster of emotions. From the lowest of lows and times that I wished never happened, I hope it never happened again to the most amazing times in my life. When I remember I don’t regret any of it, I have made decisions and choices that I wish I didn’t but I don’t regret any of it. There were miserable times, lots of fun times and hard. I also grew a family at the same time. When you look back, a lot happened but it went by in a flash. I’m like, “Where am I? How did I get here? What’s next?”

I’d love to touch on a little bit of both. I’d love to hear 1 or 2 of the highest highs and the lowest lows that stand out in that journey. To give people a little bit more of a snapshot, I’ll be reading this in the bio beforehand and you’ve already heard it. You’ve got four kids and a wife. You’ve been running this restaurant since 2008 which means 22 was when you started. There is so much to respect about the life you’ve lived. We’re going to dive into those in a little bit but I want to start with this journey of the restaurant.

Anyone in the entrepreneurial space knows how incredibly challenging it is to open and operate a restaurant, be successful at that, and have that last longer than 5 or 3 years even. Let alone have a family alongside that but there’s inevitably like this. You’re saying, “I don’t want to go on a kitty roller coaster. I want to go on six flags. Give me the biggest roller coaster there is.” Walk us through some of those lows or the highs. Let’s start with the highlights.

Some of the highlights of the business is getting it open. I remember that first day we opened. We had worked hard and it was a construction. I thought that was challenging. It’s building, there’s no stress, no customers. There are headaches of things but you solve the problems. The first day we opened, it’s the excitement of selling. We sold 100 sausages or something which was our aggressive goal in our financial model to sell an average of 100 sausages a day. We opened about 30 minutes late and the excitement of opening. You’re exhausted and adrenaline. That first week was special. I’ll never forget some of those days and the people that came in.

[bctt tweet=”An entrepreneur is not, by nature, a very good operator.” via=”no”]

You talked to Stan, he was there. He brought in 30 people that first night. He bought a huge beer. People that continued and still continue to support and help. I have a great partner. We’ve had an amazing relationship over the years and we work well together. I’m assuming it’s mutual, but the two of us have had a lot of fun. We’ve got to travel the world. We get to solve and work through some interesting problems. We’ve built a good structure and system that I’m proud of. We’ve come up with ways to lead people in non-traditional ways that are heavily influenced by the things we read, things that we do, and people we meet. We have tremendous respect and that’s a lot of fun. We’ll get after it, work through problems and help each other stay focused. We’ve both gone through a lot over the years, and have been able to support each other to get through that stuff but we’re different.

It seems like you guys are complementary, which is a perfect thing for a partner. You don’t want the same person. This is something that I also came across a lot in research, and a lot of people made the comment that you have an incredible knack for operational efficiencies. That didn’t happen by chance. It’s happened by a lot of work, trial and error, experience and learning. In light of that, how have you developed that sense of operational efficiencies? What is the importance of operational efficiencies in light of any business as you see it now?

This is a great conversation. We talk about this one because an entrepreneur is not by nature a good operator. We have a tendency to jump, switch, and grab on to shiny objects. That is a huge threat to any business because you’ll get distracted and you’ll jump in different directions. The more you do, the more opportunities you get. You and I have talked about things that I’m fired up to do. I could do but I got to quit something or everything realistically.

That’s not a good builder. It’s hard. I still a struggle to stay focused. It’s one of our key tenets within the company is focused. That’s one of the reasons we closed our coffee shop and we’ve stopped doing any other operating endeavors. That’s tough as an entrepreneur. You want to do stuff and new stuff, doing the same thing. I love sausages and beer, but you can only get creative when you’re looking at a model in and out and trying to see why are they successful? Will they execute well? Those are operators.

When it comes to operations, I’ve had to force to learn and great books like The E-Myth have encouraged that growth to get focused, get linear, process-driven, and teach people to enjoy that process. It’s hard for the newest workforce that’s out there to stay focused on simple. We want your task to be as simple as possible because we can get good and effective at it. When something goes wrong, we can quickly get it back to normal, which when you look at a restaurant or any business, the customer’s expectation is it’s the same every time.

The number one reason people don’t come back to restaurants is not that it went bad, it’s because it changed. If you look at a farm-to-table restaurant, which I love, don’t get me wrong, these restaurants are virtually impossible to make money and exceptionally hard to run. It’s one of the reasons they don’t last long. You go once, you love it. You go twice, you love it. You go a third time, you ordered something you didn’t like, you had a server that was either grumpy that day or not good, and you don’t go back.

You never even think about not going back. It’s not like you’re going to write a review. It’s just that there’s another farm to table restaurant. We’ve set out to do something a little different in the sense that we want to execute the exact same way. The only way to do that is to have systems, operations, consistency, document, the heck out of it. We spend a lot of money and time on training. We had a manager quit that we had been training for two and a half months.

The only real takeaway we had is we finished training and they decided like, “It’s not creative enough.” I was like, “You’re a manager. Managers aren’t supposed to be creative. You can be creative within the box but we aren’t trying to get you to reinvent the wheel. Our goal and our customers want consistency and we’ve been doing it for years. Why did you take this job?” Have some respect for us and yourself. If you’re looking for creativity, we want operators and people that are going to execute consistency and that’s hard. Simple is hard.

You’re preaching my language. That’s the whole premise of my book. It’s true. The E-Myth Revisited is a great book. Everyone needs to read that especially if you’re entrepreneurially-minded. I read that. It’s a phenomenal breakdown. I know that played a big impact on you guys too. It’s funny when you mentioned consistency. Have you read Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion? It’s by Robert Cialdini. I’ve read it a couple of years ago and it stuck with me because it’s powerful. In there, one of the key takeaways is we are driven and wired by consistency naturally as human beings. We will do the most irrational things to be consistent with what we say or what we believe about ourselves.

There’s a Chinese prisoner of war camps. That was one of the examples he uses. When they had American soldiers there, they mentally tortured them by having them write out and recorded on video saying pro-Communist things. When these soldiers left, they truly believe they were pro-Communists because they wanted to be consistent with what they had outwardly shown and said. There’s a lot of play on there of the power of consistency. It’s not even a conscious decision. It’s a subconscious decision of like, “I won’t go back there because they weren’t consistent.” It’s interesting hearing that especially on the restaurant side but it’s powerful and it’s hard to do.

I have a story. I was talking to a customer and she was a regular. They were a group of twelve vegans. Their vegetarians. The whole company is vegetarian. They drove 40 minutes to have vegetarian sausages. We had to make a decision to change out one of our vegetarian sausages to a different vegetarian sausage. It was our slowest moving sausage. The one we changed out became one of our top moving sausages and it’s vegetarian. She called me out and say, “It’s a real bummer that you got rid of the vegetarian apple sage.”

UAC 117 | New Market Niche


I was like, “You told me how much you loved the other vegetarian sausage and that’s what you get.” This decision that I literally thought nobody would care about. I had somebody that little change. It wasn’t enough to ruin the experience for them, thankfully, but I’m guessing there is somebody that was a core customer that loved that sausage and is now no longer coming. It’s no big deal when I’m making that decision but I’m sure it had an impact.

There are always trade-offs. For others to embrace it, you have to first embrace it. That’s something hard for someone who’s an entrepreneur and creating new things. You don’t just naturally fall in love with systems and processes.

I hate them.

How have you grown to love them, try to love or embrace them running your own business?

I want to compare it to drinking water. We have to drink water, otherwise we die. You don’t always think about it. At the end of the day, you’re grumpy and you realize, “I didn’t drink any water that I went grumpy.” The operational success of executing correctly with a process, a few things happen. When you have consistent processes, everybody knows what they’re supposed to do. When something is not going correct, you look at the process, not the people. As soon as you get a bad person or a lazy person which by nature, people eventually become lazy or don’t follow the process, lose will or whatever X factor, they stopped doing things correctly.

The whole thing falls apart. Whereas if you have a process and everybody knows it, you can get efficient at that and you can also change it consistently. If every day you’re doing something different, you can never get better. If you do the same thing every day for every task or whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, when it’s time to make changes or you see flaws, you’re able to go in and look at the process or where’s the inefficiency. It’s like a little factory. Make a change there, re-document it, and then consistently roll it out. When you start looking at an organization with 100 people and you need to do something that affects 50 of them, you don’t just make it in a board room and say it happens.

That might take 2 or 3 weeks to get implemented. It might circle back to the old system because of some reasons. When you get those processes, you start seeing the success, efficiency and how well people operate within them, then get it. People that don’t like that process or systems are quickly fired or quit. The system flushes out people that don’t belong and if they don’t get it. If you start seeing how effective a process is as frustrating as it can be initially, once you buy in and you see the success, it’s a game-changer.

There’s a great book also, Culture Making by Andy Crouch. That is more on what God’s role is in creating us and how we’ve been wired. His point is that we’re creators and cultivators of culture. He’s also making the point that we have to have a structure to create within. You can’t just create out of nothing. He’s given us a structure and the same is true. We can flourish so much within a structure that we get to operate within. It’s not confining, it’s allowing us to do our best in a lot of ways. You have to embrace it because if you don’t, then it’s not going to work for you or the company as you’ve communicated already. Looking at the process and not the people, that’s a great way to phrase it.

You need good people though.

Speaking of that, what is that turnover like for employees and then how have you seen the workforce change in those years?

We are in the people business. A guy named Dave Peterson who owns McDonald’s up in Santa Barbara taught me that in my first year even before we opened. Essentially, we are nothing without great people because food is everywhere. The interaction that your guests have with your staff ultimately creates your customers coming back. I can’t touch everybody. There was a point where I did, but I don’t touch any customers anymore, unfortunately. People that feel cared about will care about others. We create a process that people who want to care for others have the infrastructure to do that. That gets complex fast or philosophical. How do you do that? It’s easy to say it’s hard to do. We’ve spent time looking at what is the first interaction with the company to your last interaction.

[bctt tweet=”We are nothing without great people.” via=”no”]

We had a conversation about this. Our HR manager’s job is the first time you have an interaction with the business to the last check you received from the business. What does that life cycle and what is your opinion of that life cycle after you get that last check, regardless if you were terminated, quit, resigned or whatever? If we can execute that, that’s a good thing. We’re not perfect but that’s the goal. Digging into that to what is your orientation? What is your training? How organized are we during that process?

Do you have a checklist? Do you know where you are? Do you know where you need to get? Do you know what has to happen before you get promoted? We only hire two positions at the company, a fry cook and a food runner, but we have twenty different roles. They all are promoted from those two positions. Anybody that comes in with ten years’ worth of experience either understands the value of that or thinks we’re crazy and will never work for us. That immediately sets our culture. Everybody knows every position. Most of our managers are promoted from within. We do occasionally hire managers externally but our success rate is nowhere near as high as internal promotions. We need to have that.

Is that something that you came to and experience? Did you guys set out with that mindset of internal promotion?

It evolved fast. Once you do it enough times and you have a few people vouching for management positions, you hire somebody from external, and then you realize they’re not good. It’s a little bit like the evil you know is better than the evil you don’t. When you hire somebody, you know nothing about them. When you’ve worked with somebody for a year, you know too much about them. It’s almost recognizing the too much that you know and be like, “I know all these good things about them.” Let’s play into that. Your mind messes with you. The grass is greener elsewhere where it’s not.

Before I move past the people, this is something that’s true, people naturally will get lazy. That’s how we all will default to if there’s no intention and effort made to oppose that. As owner and boss, how do you help people not get lazy within their roles? How do you go about that strategy?

It comes down to the few things that motivate people and that’s beyond their task. We have simple tasks. Accepting an order, putting the order in, cooking the order, dropping the order off which when you boil it down to that, it’s a mundane process. If you were to elevate that process and the influence you have on society and the culture during that experience, you can change the course of somebody’s life. If you start looking at those interactions as, “I’m going to change this person’s life,” or, “I have the ability done well to make an impact on this person,” you teach how to do that, the ways to do that and educating somebody about the world’s oldest brewery or beers that are made by monks that are supporting orphanages in Africa, or you’re able to start talking about this stuff that nobody knows, all of a sudden, you are a cultural center through the sausage.

Our purpose is to help people fall in love. You say that and you’re like, “Sausages help people fall in love.” The number of people that have met in the restaurants at our communal tables over crayon drawings and Duchesse de Bourgogne sour ale are infamous. We get messages and letters constantly from people like, “We met six years ago at your restaurant and we wanted to thank you. We come back every year on our anniversary.” There are at least a dozen of those out there. The missed encounters that happen on Craigslist and things like this.

There’s a community epicenter that happens around our restaurants which are created by our staff and how they greet. When you walk in the door, it’s our goal that you’re greeted warmly immediately. We have a timeframe. We have a line that might be an hour, but the second you walk in the door, we’re excited to see you, and tell you about our beer and duck bacon sausage. That’s the median we’re selling you but what we’re wanting you to buy is this feeling. Hopefully, you fall in love with our honey mustard or the person that you’re with.

To do a little sidetrack here, apparently, you have not fallen in love with sweet peppers and blue cheese. According to insider information, there are things on the menu items that you haven’t even tried out.

The only thing on our menu that I have not eaten, which is one of our most popular items, is our blue cheese bacon and walnut dressing or dip for fries. I’m not a blue cheese fan. I can’t do it. I’ve had it once, I thought it was terrible. I cannot stand that blue cheese profile and I love bacon.

Let’s circle back to this generation of workers. What have you seen in those years with people that you’re potentially hiring or this generation, or how the workforce has changed?

UAC 177 | New Market Niche


For the most part, I’m employing peer-age groups. Originally, I was 22 and I was the only manager besides my partner, and I was employing people anywhere from 25 to 50 or older. Joseph who’s a partner was only 25 or 26. We had never owned a restaurant. The credibility was a little low. At the same time, it was also 2008 through 2012. Every single person that applied had a four-year degree from one of the top institutions in the country. These were smart, hardworking individuals in a job market that didn’t exist. They were also applying with people that were 30 to 50 that didn’t have a job that was going into restaurants again, and had fallen on more difficult times. Their first choice was not to work in a restaurant. In addition to the more traditional workforce that LA has for service staff which were actors and creatives.

I remember at one point, every single person on our service staff had a four-year degree. The number of people that we could promote into management was amazing because they had business degrees from USC, UCLA, Berkeley and Stanford. It was amazing. That changed. We now have a creative workforce. I would say about everybody in our workforce is creative. It’s amazing talents that our staff has. There’s this undertone workforce mentality that I see which is a societal thing.

There are a lot fewer people that have the will to work hard. Our staff and what we’re looking for are people that break that mold. We’ve done an excellent job of finding great people that break that mold but we’re going through many interviews of people that aren’t willing to do certain tasks. That’s been a change in this idea that, “We are all equal but I’m not going to do that or that’s not my job.” We don’t have room for that mentality.

At the end of the day, it’s an entitlement to say, “I am above X, Y or Z.” That’s why I’ve been talking to a lot of people about this. I love the worldview that the Bible provides that God gives us. It’s that every human being is equal for two reasons. One, we’re created in the image of God, so you all have worth and value that no one can take away. It doesn’t matter where you live, what you look like, what you do, you have worth and value that no human can ever take away from you. Two, we’re all sinners that we all fall short and no one is better than the rest of us. In that worldview that God has given in the Bible, that’s how I operate.

I can see everyone and myself rightly. That helps us overcome the natural entitlement that we’ll always feel. Another great quote that I’ve been saying a lot is, “I was born on third base and thought I hit a triple.” We need those reminders because a lot of us in America have been given a silver platter of prosperity. We live in this incredibly prosperous age and country like never before. We didn’t choose that. It was given to us. Good or bad, it’s hard to say. There are good and bad things about that. It comes down to taking that individual ownership of what we have been giving and steward it well. What do you see as some of those other factors that have reduced or led to a loss of the will to work hard?

I was having a conversation with a customer. He’s a volleyball coach and we were talking about this old idea of a helicopter parent that has been protecting their kids from above, but now we have snowplow parents. This was a term that he created or which has not been watching out for problems but has been making sure that their children never saw a problem. They were behind the snowplow going and then they get to college or they get to their first job. They’re ill-prepared for any challenge or diversity. As soon as they have it, it’s like, “Poor me, I’m scared. I can’t do this. I’m crying.”

The number of people that are crying in my office because the job is hard or life is hard. Thankfully, it’s a little harder to get to my office now. Nothing to say, there’s nothing wrong with emotion or tears. That’s a real feeling. It’s the quick and the speed of life is so hard instead, this that and the other. You break down their life and it’s not that complex. They don’t have the emotional tools to handle that. As an employer, you’re giving or developing those tools on some levels that their parents failed to prepare them with. We see that a lot.

I’m a first-time employer, and restaurants employ a lot of people in either entry-level or first-time employment jobs. That’s why restaurants are amazing for society because you have a lot of interactions with people, you develop those people skills, you also have to learn to work hard and with others. If you haven’t prepared that in the early stages of your life, you’ll see it. Unfortunately, if you can’t overcome it, they either have to go learn it somewhere else or never learn it.

It’s always a combination of inherited tendencies and life experiences. It is an interesting age we live in but that’s a great message for all of us to strive to embrace. We needed to take ownership, be settled, be responsible, and work hard. There’s a great quote that Theodore Roosevelt said, “There’s no greater gift in life than the ability to work hard at work worth doing.” I love that. It’s true. I want to circle back because you talked about emotions and emotions are a good thing. You’ve had plenty of emotions on this journey. I remember reading in some research about a moment in time throughout the process where you were working from 6:00 AM to 1:00 AM or constantly going. You would get into your car and break down crying at times. Talk to me about those experiences and lows. What was that like?

We were touching on this earlier but building is hard, and then getting into operations becomes challenging. This was and has been, for the most part, my only job. I had done some things prior but for all intents and purposes, this was it. I knew how to work hard and was working as hard as I knew how to work. I was putting in 100 to 120 hours a week, 6:00 AM to 12:00, 6:00 AM to 1:00, not being able to sleep, whereas you had many things going through your brain. I know I’m working too much when I am dreaming about my work. I am forgetting things and then realize I forgot to drop off something that somebody had asked for. You’re waking up in a cold sweat because you forgot to drop off a dipping sauce to somebody that asked.

You’re remembering it at 3:00 in the morning. That’s when you know that you’re pushing it a little too hard. I went from 195 pounds to 160. I’m 6’2”. I should not be below 180 pounds. Even at 180 pounds, I’m underweight. My skin changed colors and my hair changed colors, not gray but funky malnutrition color. You always felt on stage and felt fake because you were building relationships. You’re constantly having the same conversations and bringing energy to everything. Things were never going right. You were running out of sausage, bread and you were racing everywhere. You were ten steps behind your whole waking hours. I remember getting in the car one day and being tired. I’m not an emotional person.

[bctt tweet=”People that feel cared about will care about others.” via=”no”]

I don’t remember the last time I cried but I’m bawling. You’re like, “What the heck? I’m a mess.” I couldn’t even tell you why. Who knows? how I didn’t get sick or how other consequences didn’t come out of it, we ultimately found ways to survive, everything from having family members come in and help and things like this. There’s a level of it that you look back on and you’re like, “That was a crazy cool time.” You also look back and you’re like, “Why would anybody do this to themselves? This is the difference.” I look back and I look at where my life is now and I’m grateful for those times.

If you had to pick the lowest moment in your journey, what would be that lowest point?

It’s hard to pick a particular moment in that whole season during the first 3 to 9 months of the store being open. There was so much positivity going on. I had a baby on the way, the busiest restaurant in the city and everything was going well from the outside. I was beaten up. I remember like, “If this place burned down, I wouldn’t be that disappointed.” It’d be a big relief. You can’t prepare yourself for that process and you can’t talk about it either. I’d stepped away from any friend circle at that point. There was no time. I think you talked to Stan and I remember being at dinner with him, his wife and Christin, and not even being able to have a conversation because I was tired and couldn’t think. I was dead. Those were exhausting crazy times.

I remember reading about it in one of the articles I read or maybe we talked about it, but you made the comment that you have to have a certain level of ignorance to take on something like this. In order to be confident in what you’re doing, there has to be some manner of ignorance to help fuel and inform that confidence, that naivete. Talk to me about that concept and what’s a healthy level of ignorance is.

You get to my stage in the journey, you look back and you’re like, “I was an idiot. Why was I stupid?” At the same time, if you didn’t have that level of ignorance, you would have never taken the leaps of faith that you did. You couldn’t write down that we would be the third most Yelp restaurant in the country as part of your business plan. If I had written down our sales a quarter of what they became, people would have said I’m crazy. I believed and I love sausage and beer. Every restaurant that sells beer has people and every restaurant that has sausages even though it’s divey, people love that.

It’s going to be successful. There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to be successful, we would be able to pay back the money we borrowed and life would go on. Now that I’ve had some big failures, that’s not the case and I’ve watched lots of good restaurants fail knowing that we beat the odds and had somebody looking out for us. We were ignorant, smart enough, and hardworking enough that we were able to figure it out. Timing and luck play into it too.

There is an acceptance of a manner of ignorance that’s involved, and that’s what faith is. Faith is not full knowledge. That’s a good thing. We do need faith in life and take those leaps of faith but they can’t be blind and they can be informed. That’s the best leaps of faith to take. There needs to be a manner of informed leaping. You mentioned the failures along the way. I want to talk about the Denver expansion and what led to the decision to close it. I got to read a good bit about that background but it didn’t go into a lot of that final decision. I would love to set the context for that. Talk about that decision and how you came to that decision.

Let’s take a quick step back to make sure. I opened a restaurant in downtown Los Angeles then Venice Beach. Both of which were wildly successful. The structure of our company was two partners that were honed 100% of the business and we had zero debt. We made a classic trap that we fell into that we were not going to open a failure. We believed LA was too small of a market for us to have another restaurant where we were already famous, known or established. We decided, “We need to go to a different city. We’ve got to go conquer somewhere else.” We looked at Portland, Seattle and Chicago. We found Denver and fell in love with Denver, which is an amazing city and real estate was cheap.

We had a great cashflow and we’re like, “Let’s do it.” Lots of challenges happened but there was a major failure there in our thought process of we should have done a better job of checking. We were overconfident based on our prior successes and that blinded us. It was the first time either of us had any substantial money, we both had extremely low overhead, we were both being paid little so the company was doing well, and we had a small infrastructure of staff. Our management team was small.

All that being said is like, “We can do it. We did it once. We’ll do it again.” That did not turn out that way. We had a lot of challenges which I won’t go into and I’ll get to the ending. We built a beautiful restaurant in Denver and lots of factors changed but we had zero business. I had a coffee shop that was 200 square feet that were doing more in sales than our 8,000-square-foot that restaurant. It was an energy suck and time suck. I had my third child. At one point, I was jumping from one Airbnb to another Airbnb with my wife and three kids. It was exhausting.

The other restaurants were doing well for a little while. Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. After eleven months, we dumped all energy and resources into trying to get sales moving in the right direction and we couldn’t do it. We sat at the LA Athletic Club. I had already thrown in the towel. About 3 or 4 months before, I had said to my team, “I can’t keep doing what I have been doing. It’s not healthy. I have to give it a try.” Joseph, thankfully, stepped up and recognize that. He went out and gave it an amazing effort. He did a lot of cool things. He worked hard. We gave it all of our best efforts and it wasn’t going to make a difference. When we sat down, he flew out our CFO who’s our number one advisor. Joseph and I sat at the LA Athletic Club over breakfast because we had said, “We’re not going to talk about closing until after the New Year.”

UAC 177 | New Market Niche

New Market Niche: Faith is not full knowledge. You have to take leaps.


It was a four-hour conversation but the decision was made in the first five minutes. It was another several hours of reminiscing and coming to terms with it because there is a lot of consequences. Sitting at the table, Joseph booked a flight at 5:00 or 4:00 or something, we got everybody that was in the restaurant. The people that worked with us and were with us at that point were key contributors. A lot of them had been with us and suffering with if you would. We have believed in what we were trying to do. When you work that hard in the trenches with people, you have a good bond and let them know, “We’re going to clean the restaurant for the last time and we’re going to drink beer.” They closed up the restaurant. I still regret not going but somebody needed to be here. That was that.

It’s crazy. I love it though because there’s so much gold in there. We learned from our failures. One quote that is good from Ryan Holiday’s book that he mentioned in Conspiracy about overconfidence. Machiavelli said, “When overconfidence enters men’s hearts, it causes them to go beyond their mark. To lose the opportunity of possessing a certain good by hoping to obtain a better one that is uncertain.” That’s where we all naturally go. You’ve learned that through experience. What was the timeline like for that decision? How long did you guys give it before you came to that terms? What was that period of time like? In making that decision, how hard was it to overcome that sunk cost fallacy? I feel like that is one of the biggest barriers to closing down, stopping or ending any pursuit.

The restaurant was never busy. We had an amazing opening party in a blizzard of the night. We had 600 people in the restaurant, everybody in the city was talking about us and it was fun. I genuinely believed we were setting up to have our busiest restaurant. That was the last win of that restaurant. The first and last. Lots of factors went into it but literally, for three months, the weather was terrible. The industry within Denver had changed. Lots of excuses but they are reasons that played into the failure. When you look at a business, you have multiple divisions at that point, you’re jumping from fire-to-fire, and you’re no longer leading the business but you’re mirroring out little fires everywhere, it’s no longer a financial decision.

You’re now looking at this whole thing like there is the iceberg. We have a fire that we can put out or we have to turn and get away from the iceberg. That was essentially the situation we were in. We could put out the fire on Denver by closing the doors, allow us to turn away from potentially taking the whole company down and refocus, regroup. When you start looking at analogies like, “Lose the battle, not the war and things like this.” We’re extremely conservative in how we operate a business. We don’t use debt and we only build with money that we’ve saved so that allows for it to truly be a sunk cost. I’m glad that you brought that up because if that was debt, we would have been destroyed.

Our conservative nature of knowing the risk that we do have saved us in that front because we wrote it off. It was a hard thing to do but when you look at the global picture, you’re able to go back and rebuild. We are able to continue and rebuild the things that we had lost during that time. It took two years to redevelop our management team, re-instill our culture and our individual mentality. You become bruised internally after that. You don’t realize until you’re making decisions how much that process has messed with your head and your ability. You do need to move forward with faith on many things but still, you’re never going to know scientifically whether a decision is right or wrong, you have to go.

The bigger the failure, the harder the recovery a lot of times, individually or personally or internally. If there’s one thing that experience left you with, what lesson has that instilled in you or given you as you move forward?

I’m glad that we have these conservative principles and we’re going to stick to those. The business can operate on its own and its financial stack doesn’t get in the way of keeping it from being successful. I hate traveling for work. I used to think that would be no big deal, but getting on an airplane to go to work is not my goal. I remember nights where I wanted to sleep in my own bed so I get on a 10:00 or 11:00 flight to fly home so I’d be in bed by 1:00, and then I’d fly out at 5:00 AM. I did that a few times because I didn’t care. I was like, “I don’t want to go back to that apartment where it’s just a bed. I can’t do it.” I learned that about myself. I would also say that when you do have multiple divisions and you see leaks happening or cultural thing is changing, you got to go address them. You got to cut off what’s not working. The Denver restaurant was not working.

Thanks for sharing. It’s a lot to glean from that. It’s helpful. “Failure isn’t fatal, it’s the failures that we don’t learn from that might be.” That’s a great quote but I can’t remember by who. Before we move past the restaurant fully, one of the things that are crazy about the restaurant you started is that you pioneered a genre of restaurant. You guys were the first model of what a fast-casual restaurant could entail. Talk to me about what that experience was like? How did you create that environment or have a sense for that niche that wasn’t even in existence yet?

Let’s unpack that a little bit more before we dig into it. We started at a segment of restaurants that I call fun casual as opposed to this fast-casual. When you think fast-casual, I would say Chipotle or Sweetgreen or something like this fits in that genre, but this idea that you can go and celebrate your birthday party at a Chipotle is not generally what people are doing. You don’t make a reservation. We aren’t a reservation restaurant, but if you have a group of twelve or more, we’d love to get you in there. You’re going to stay for 3 or 4 hours, you’re going to have an amazing time. This idea of fun casual didn’t exist. This happened because we don’t have experience in restaurants.

We weren’t filled with the notion that this is how you do it. Everything we did, we reinvented or thought of. We’ve changed some things to fall more in line with good principles of operation through years of meeting people, talking with friends, and things like that. This segment that was created was extremely well-positioned for the environment that we are in where wages are going up fast. The dining experience is changing away from a service model into a counter model. We were the first ones doing the counter hybrid set up that you’re seeing a ton of now because it’s efficient. For food to not go up extremely high in price, restaurants have to figure out how to be more effective. We were well-positioned to do that.

What you mentioned is crucial. You didn’t have that prior experience that allowed you to see it with child-like eyes, to see anew without the culture that was in place before affecting your vision. I’m reading a great book, How We Got To Now. It’s all about these six innovations that shaped the modern world. It’s fascinating. The one that I’ve been reading was on sound. The guy who was the first pioneer of sound came up with a scene called Phonautograph. It was like a stenograph but taking sound waves and putting them on paper. He needed to take two giant leaps and he was only able to take one.

[bctt tweet=”The best leaps of faith cannot be blind. They need to be informed.” via=”no”]

You don’t even know about the second giant leap you need if you don’t have that first giant leap. His first giant leaf was being able to move the sound to paper. The second giant leap that he didn’t understand at that moment was he need to be able to play that sound back or it doesn’t mean anything. You have to interpret or be able to read these lines on a paper that’s the sound waves. That doesn’t do any good for anyone. It’s interesting how innovation happens. It’s always one big leap at a time, but it’s people that are able to look horizontally, laterally and bring a new perspective into any industry or field. That’s a good example of what you guys were able to do too. This is going to be fun now because I want to dive more into who you are.

This is important. What most people won’t realize even from this conversation and most people don’t necessarily know unless they know you, is that you are dyslexic. Not only are you dyslexic, according to your dad, you are a 10 out of 10 on the scale to dyslexia. I don’t know if you knew this story but one thing that he mentioned is that when you saw a clinical pediatrician back in the day. You went in there at age 8 or 9, and when she pulled both your parents aside. She was like, “I’ve never seen in my entire practice someone with this level of dyslexia that he has.” Talk to me about this experience of having dyslexia. How did that shape you as a kid? What was that experience like growing up? How has that made you the person that you are now?

Being dyslexic has shaped my life. It’s not something you can hide in any way. I don’t think I learned to read at all until 4th grade but later on. I have kids and the teacher is saying, “He’s a little behind in reading.” “Behind in reading? The kid reads great. What are you talking about?” It still plays in my life. I’m like, “You’re such a hard teacher. He’s in 1st grade. It seems like he’s reading fine.” That being the case, there were times that were challenging. Kids are tough and they don’t get it. Dyslexics are interesting diagnoses if you would or learning opportunity.

As Paul Orfalea refers to, who was the Founder of Kinko, “It’s not a learning disability but a learning opportunity,” in the sense that you look at the world differently. You see everything from a different perspective than others. In general, speaking broadly about dyslexics, not necessarily myself, there tends to be a high IQ with a frustrated internal problem of you cannot figure out how to do or learn the way that the world tends to teach people. It creates a lot of issues internally because you’re smart enough to figure out there’s something majorly wrong, but yet you’re not able to overcome this thing.

Historically, a lot of dyslexics were referred to as dumb which if you take a smart person and call them dumb, they’re going to become depressed fast. Somehow, my parents didn’t give up on me. Half of everybody in jail are dyslexic, and half of the CEOs are dyslexic. You’re going one way or another. My parents had a ton of support growing up forever to figure out and learn how to navigate the world. I’d say my partner, which was my dad, is doing crazy things. The two of us together did some wild things. Some of which he did for me. Others, we did together. That allowed for me to not end up in jail. Where do you want to go? We can go a lot of places.

I want to hear a little bit more about how you see the world and how you learn versus how it’s commonly prescribed to you. How did you go about that process of living in that tension of constantly having that friction of, “This is what’s being imposed on you and structured, and that’s not what’s best for you?” Even understanding that consciously for you, when did that first start or how did you navigate that as you went through the education system as a whole?

God gave me some cool tools that I realized I had early on. When I want to, I can relate and conversate with anybody. As early as I can remember, I’m talking 2 or 3, I had this gift of being able to relate and have conversations. I don’t want to say it’s sneaky by any means but it could win people over and quickly become friends.

Talk to me about the story at Honolulu Airport.

You’re going to have to give me some more context.

Age five, Home Alone story.

You’re going to have to share this story.

New Market Niche: You do need to move forward with faith in so many things. You’re not going to know scientifically whether a decision is right or wrong; you just have to go.


Apparently, at age five, in the middle of Honolulu Airport, your flight is about to leave and all of a sudden Tyler goes missing and the whole family is freaking out looking for you. After 5 to 10 minutes of looking, your dad sees you walking and says, “Where have you been?” You say, “I was talking with this guy. He’s a businessman. He gave me his business card. We had a great conversation.” You were five.

Unfortunately, being dyslexic, I also had a bad memory. I don’t remember that at all. Those types of interactions are a commonplace. I remember doing it all the time. Whether I’d be traveling, I could talk with anybody about anything and would enjoy it. That has continued and is still a part of who I am but that gift that I was given to be able to communicate who I am and my thoughts verbally allowed me to be successful, which allowed me to build relationships with my teachers and professors.

I would venture to guess that I had at least a dozen teachers over the years that gave me a B when they wanted to fail me or should have failed me. Through untraditional means, I was able to prove that I shouldn’t fail and needed to move on or would allow me to do things that allowed me to be successful like turning the paper orally. I’d convinced TAs over the years in college that, “I can’t turn this paper and I won’t be able to do it but let’s sit down and let’s go get coffee. I will tell you everything that should be in the paper.” They would give me a grade. Whether or not they would lose their job if they got caught, I don’t know. That’s how I was able to get through school and overcome. We can dig into a whole bunch of other big examples that are more in the grownup world of how that still played into finding non-traditional ways to get through school.

Before we get there because I do want to touch on that, how do you support other people with dyslexia? For someone like me who’s not dyslexic especially in the younger, more formative years, what is important for supporting, fostering and helping people who are dyslexic not end up in jail but end up as a CEO on that spectrum?

It’s sad our system is broken for dyslexics. It’s getting better. The few things that I could give advice to parents if I’m being one and would be, if you’re working with a dyslexic, they need confidence because they’re going to get beat up. They’re going to be aware that they are different in a way that they can’t change. You’re not going to will somebody to write well or read. They can’t try harder. It’s not going to work in the traditional sense. If you play into that in any way and beat up that confidence again or say you got to try harder, that child is going to have a hard time. Not to say they’re not going to have to work hard and you’re not going to have to encourage them, but if you play into that idea that you’re not trying hard enough. I’m going to share some stories in a minute throwing people under the buses.

It’s going to be tough for them to will themselves or fight their way out of it because they are having nobody to anchor them that this is going to be a challenge, and it’s going to be a challenge your whole life. You’re going to have to work hard. It’s going to be different for you than others but you can’t use it as an excuse. You’re going to have to figure out other ways to get around. That played into the entrepreneurial lifestyle that I believed in. For me, I never wanted to work for anybody because if you’re the boss, your spelling is less important. I never pictured myself working for anybody because I was going to solve my own challenges.

Let’s talk about as you went through the education system and you’re experiencing these obstacles. You came up with some creative solutions. One of them was in college. Talk through your mindset in college because I find this fascinating. It’s something that could be helpful for people to know.

The creative things that I had to do to get through school like high school, before voice dictation was a thing, I had the first voice dictation software that existed. Before I had voice dictation software, I had a tape recorder that I would record my essays into and my dad would then type them up. That idea of verbally communicating my ideas and thoughts and then it gets put into a paper was the only way that it would have happened. Unfortunately, I was never going to learn how to pass a spelling test. It didn’t matter how hard, “I couldn’t read the word and you want me to spell it, you’re crazy.” I also had a lot of friends. Every morning, I would have the right friend in the right place to text me the right answer to the right quiz.

Whether I agree with the fact that I did that or not, that was the only way that I was going to get through school. It wasn’t going to words that nobody uses. I wasn’t going to ever learn how to spell. I wasn’t going to put energy. Once I realized how much energy I’d put in and I still get one right, and I spent six hours, I was like, “This is not for me.” Moving to college and how that continued to play out is thankfully, I only took college prep which is the bare minimum classes you had to take to qualify for a four-year university. Unfortunately, most of the people in my classes, including the teachers, did not believe anybody in these classes was going to go to college.

They were not the AP, accelerated track and no college units. They weren’t the hardest classes at the university, but they did qualify for the UC minimum. I remember going into my senior year that any of these top universities in the state would have got me in outside of Stanford. Stanford wasn’t going to talk to me. I was only interested in going to USC or UCLA. I was like, “These are the coolest schools in the world.” I love Southern California, I love the ocean, I love to surf, I’m a water polo player and a swimmer and these are the schools. I struggled with that decision before I had taken my SATs because I was told that I would have no problem getting in.

I’ve got peers that were challenged, struggling and stressing to qualify that took a lot harder academic careers that didn’t get into these universities that they wanted to. I was honored to be able to go but that’s the only way I got in. The problem is getting in is step one. I ended up choosing to go to USC for a handful of reasons but the primary one is to go to Marshall School of Business. You look at the course descriptions and the entrepreneur school within Marshall and you’re like, “These are the coolest classes.” Your professors started amazing companies. They run and do this because they want to share and teach the next generation of entrepreneurs. You can’t teach entrepreneurship but you can build the ideas that will increase the odds of being successful.

[bctt tweet=”Schools are businesses, and their products are successful people.” via=”no”]

Here’s the challenge. You have to get into the business school and the business school could care less about the athletic department. Once I got into USC, I spent the next two years trying to get into the business school. I got rejected three times. Some time at the beginning of my junior year, I got a letter that said, “You cannot apply again.” Even though it clearly says you can apply as many times as you want. “It’s your academic interest to see a counselor immediately.” This is the idea of rejection over and over.

I finally was able to work this process, got a bunch of letters of recommendations and got a meeting with a guy named Tom Amalia who unfortunately passed away years ago. He invited me into his office and said, “Do you want to be in my program?” I said, “I love to be in your program.” “You’re going to work hard. You’re going to do a good job.” I was like, “I’ll do a great job.” He’s like, “Don’t let me down. You’re in.” He accepted me into the entrepreneurship school as a subcategory of being in the business school. The crazy cool thing was that gave me clearance to take every business class. For my junior and senior year, I built my own elective curriculum and was only taking electives for two years with no track to ever graduating. I had pre-recs and then I had electives.

The only reason I could get in these classes is I was an athlete and I could sign up for my classes a week before anybody else could. I could take the coolest classes in school, sign up first and wasn’t even in the school. When I refer to these crazy strategies and plans that my dad and I came up with, it wasn’t for him saying, “You made it further than I expected you to make. We might as well do what you want to do.” It’s a level of arrogance on my part of like, “They’ll eventually let me in. I’ll be that stubborn. You’ll let me in or they will not.” I had no degree applicable units and I couldn’t swim anymore. I had already stopped playing water polo because I disliked the coach. Not being the case, I knew I had to go do something else that I wasn’t going to get a degree. I was in six classes short if the business school let me in. Since they never let me in, all of those classes were electives but I took amazing classes. I got C’s. I struggled like hell to get C’s. I had a tutor for every single class and I worked hard to get a C but I did it.

That’s the spirit of what education should be. It’s not about grades, it’s about learning and how we can equip ourselves for what’s next. Much of education is a game of getting good grades. That doesn’t help you or anyone else. That’s where there’s this big gap in education that there’s not an easy solution for, but we need to be pushing for a solution. I love that story because it is unconventional as it should be. What did that experience from those classes from being able to take those electives in the business school gave you in your development, and even in starting the business or after that?

I wanted to take classes like Operational Management, Accounting I and Accounting II. I had to take Econ because that was in the process of trying to get into the business school. I didn’t love Econ, but taking those classes and struggling through them have played into, “I knew enough to learn how to read a P&L, know how the numbers connect, and all the financial statements.” The tax side of things was less interesting to me but the corporate accounting was amazing stuff. I had no intention of ever learning how to build a full financial statement. I know how to read them, how to see what’s the problem and where we need to focus.

I got all those things and that’s what I wanted. I’m going to hire a smart, great person to build these financial statements, but I’m going to have to interpret them and how to activate them onto the business. That was my goal in creating this own program. I didn’t know what it was going to be one day for me. It happened to be restaurants. I love restaurants, but I love business in general. It didn’t matter to me building something fun and cool that involves people. I’ll be fine.

What pivots or shifts do you see is necessary for education to improve or to change in a healthy way?

We need to explore what we’re doing. Classrooms need to be rebuilt or restructured in different shapes. We need to get more creative in how we’re presenting the information. We need to incorporate more technology. The classrooms since you and I have not changed. The front office of a school has not changed in many years. An underperforming teacher that doesn’t care anymore can’t be fired. The fact that our schools are run by the government is retarded. That is the wrong approach. We have many smart businesses and companies in the world, charities and churches that should be running our institution.

You’re seeing a lot more of that. All the reform is coming from the private sector of people that are saying, “We’re going to do this differently” and pioneering them. That’s already happening and will continue to happen more.

Our government isn’t set up to run businesses. Schools are businesses and their product is successful people. If we were to put that into the churches, charities, nonprofits, and use all the same funds but distribute it in different ways, different types of programs and allow parents to put their kids in the type of school that’s best suited for that type of kid. I had that privilege because we moved to Hawaii and I went to a school that specialized in dyslexics. I took two years off school and had nothing but tutors in a program called Lindamood-Bell. Those were the privileges that I was able to receive through a curated program but that’s not available to many people.

I want to touch on a few more things before we’re done. One of the other things that have been a common theme that I heard from other people is that you have a sixth sense. You are incredible at meeting people and being a good judge or having a good analysis of their character of who they are as a person. This started at a young age. Your dad was floored at your judgment or your evaluation of other humans, being able to know who’s a good guy and who’s not a good guy in a short amount of time. What would you say has contributed to that? How does that work or operate for you?

UAC 177 | New Market Niche

New Market Niche: The spirit of what education should not be about grades, but about learning and about how we can equip ourselves for what’s next.


It’s going to be a hard thing to articulate or teach. I have had the opportunity and create opportunities to meet a lot of people. Through these conversations and thoughts, maybe it’s not healthy but I’m quick to tee somebody up and categorize them as, “This is a person that is going to make good decisions and I need to bring close.” The flip side of that is, “This is a person I need to be careful of and I should not bring too close. This is a person I need to make sure I keep right next to me, whether for them, for me or just by nature. This is the competency that I’m missing and this person has it to get us through whatever challenge we’re in.”

On its face, you’re a judgmental jerk. I don’t look at it that way. I’m not necessarily sitting intuitively pondering people. There’s a level of I need to look out for the people that I can influence and can influence me. I talk with my son a lot about this like, “Choose your friends.” I don’t know if you heard it but you’re the average of your five closest friends. If you look at your friends and you’re like, “These are the people that have influence in my life? No.” If they’re not like, “I’m the average of these guys.” That’s amazing. Thankfully, I have an insane group of friends. If I was to say, “Maybe I’m not even the average.” I’m hopefully not bringing down the average here.

That’s a good point. You shouldn’t be the one bringing down the average of your five.

That’s about all you can invest into. Either you’re praying for them, they’re praying for you or you’re talking with them, and you can call without a reason. They’re truly going to look out for your interests, want and cheer for you. I talk about that a ton with my son who’s at a point in his life where he has choices. It’s like, “You can be friends with a lot of people but make sure whoever you let close is not going to lead you astray.”

I’d love to touch on those two topics you mentioned, which is faith and family. Let’s start with faith. What role does faith play in your life?

Everything, I hope. I’ve been a Christian since I was a sophomore in high school. I would say that the Bible is full of what the world has adopted as its moral compass but it’s more than that. I would say all of the moral compass things I got to know where they come from as opposed to it being Jesus pulled out of it. I can’t say exactly if it guides everything. It guides my decision-making and more so as years of wisdom go on, the way I look at my perspective changes, and what are the things that you have to do or Jesus has set up by design. There is a level of discipline that needs to come into that, how does that affect you and change you. I can’t specifically tell you, but I would hope that somebody could look at my life and be like, “This person is doing it a little differently than the world.”

What kind of season do you see that God has you in? What is He growing you in this season most?

It’s weird. One of the things that I’ve always felt called through the last several years is supporting people in ministry. It’d be financial at times but more so on the operating side of things. Having those conversations about leading people, they have the same job that I have, but they’re doing so in a different context, learning from them, teaching each other and discussing that stuff. I keep being put into randomly from the outside, positions where I get to meet and discuss with amazing people that have huge impacts on tons of lives and are in full-time ministry. Being somebody that’s not called to full-time ministry as an occupation. It’s where I see learning like, “How do I do that part well?”

It’s important. It’s fun because God has called us to different things and He gifted us in different ways. It’s such a blessing. I love hearing that from you. You got married when you’re 22, you had your first kid when you’re 23, and you had four kids before you were 30. That is incredibly unusual in nowadays American society. I’m sure you had have been one of the first out of your friend group or peer group to get married, and to have four kids before 30. I can’t imagine you having any friends that have done that. How was that going through before your time in a sense?

It’s crazy to think back because when I was getting married, people thought I was crazy but all my friends knew that that’s what Tyler was going to do. The same group of friends is like, “He’s married. Now he’s going to have kids.” They’re not thinking about that. To me, it was always in the cards. I didn’t see the world happening to me any differently. It’s not like I set out to do that. As it was going, it felt right and felt like I wasn’t doing it because I wanted to but because that’s what I was supposed to do. I’ll be an empty nester before I’m 50, which doesn’t sound fun. I want to get back to working hard again if that sounds crazy. I’m at a point in life where I’m working hard but I have to work hard on a lot of things. I’ve also been to a point where I can have a little more flexibility which hopefully, I’m not taking for granted in any way. I value that time in raising kids a lot.

How do you think about that work-life balance? With four kids and owning a business, that’s an insurmountable task.

[bctt tweet=”We can’t force fruit to come.” via=”no”]

I was given the capacity to handle a lot. I do get concerned that one day I’m going to explode. At times, I have felt that way like, “This is all going to implode. Have I built a house of cards here? Have I taken too much on? Am I doing this by my own will?” There are times where I have to pull back and I have pulled back. I’m running a business, I have a team of 100, I’ve got four kids and I’m involved in all of these other things. I’m getting a Master’s in Science of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at USC. I have this amazing community group that we host at my house that you run.

All these little things are commitments. You do get overwhelmed but it doesn’t feel overwhelming. You get up and do it again. You got to look at each day as a new day, do your best and go for it. There are certain things I’d like to change. Sometimes, I have stressed the family structure at times. That’s when I realize. I may be fine but this crew is not ready for it or we’re going too quick for my team. I’ve got a cool little team that can handle a lot. My four kids are raised in an active, busy, keep-up lifestyle. I do need to be cognizant of Christin and the four of them. I want them to learn not to be lazy and complacent. We can be busy, have fun, play hooky, go skiing and whatever other fun stuff. When it’s time to work, we also can’t be lazy.

That’s important for everyone especially in a family. It’s not assuming your capacity on to other people, not expecting what you expect of yourself of others who are differently wired or gifted especially in a family. I can imagine that being a real hard, fine line to tread or to be cognizant. One of the things that I’ve heard other people say and I have experienced as well, and I am impressed and blown away by, is the way you and Christin approach parenting. One of the things I respect a ton about seeing that is the level of respect that you give your kids, even at such a young age, is more empowering than most parents and how they operate. You treat them more even at age 7 and 9 or the different ages. You’re treating them much more like adults than the majority of 7-year-old, 5-year-old or 9-year-old. Talked to me a little bit about your philosophies for your framework of parenting.

There is no right way to parent but there is my way to parent. There are definitely wrong ways to parent. For Christin and I, we’ve had to develop, read and learn how we are going to be mom and dad, and what does that look like. I’ve also managed a lot of people and see the results of what happens if you don’t do a good job, if your parents either didn’t care in the right ways or cared too much that it handicapped them. Having four kids also allows you to see your mistakes and make adjustments as you go. If you do it once, you don’t have the opportunity to learn. I am a parent similar to the way I manage although I don’t spank my staff.

The expectations for our kids are clear and we hold them to that standard. We do the best we can to make sure that our standards are not moving, that they know our standards, and if they choose not to uphold our standards as children, there are consequences. We are extremely loving and give them a ton of freedom within their circle. They know how far they can go to the edge of that circle. They know the second they step outside that circle, they have to understand that there are consequences in life for bad choices. We all make bad choices and we all deal with those consequences. I think it about eight months, most kids are aware of either subconsciously or consciously that they are choosing to make a choice that is not allowed, whether that be as simple as an eight-month-old boy that wants to play with a candle which you think it’s funny and cute, which it is.

There’s nothing wrong with playing with a candle. If you don’t learn what that candle is capable of doing at eight months, you might have a problem when you’re two. You sneak off and burn a house down or something. We have parented this way early on and I’m proud of them. They’re disciplined but also fun, outgoing, energetic and great with people. They know their expectations. All that to be said, kids are kids and we’ve prepared them quickly to go out and be on their own. The world we live in at LA is not necessarily the safest for kids.

Somebody zoomed by me in the middle of the road with a two-year-old right next to me in front of my house. She was a 60-year-old woman in a Mercedes. I almost broke her window. She was close to me that I could hit her car. You have to be cognizant of the real world that people are not going to help you in this process. The idea of getting your kids prepared for the world as our job as parents are not to protect our kids. It’s to get them ready for the world. To teach them who Jesus is and what our role as believers are in the world. It may not be easy. I tell my kids this all the time that the world is not easy, it’s not fair, and nothing is guaranteed to you. It’s a big game and you got to learn it.

Life is a gift. Those are an amazing framework and such a helpful thing to know from. I have learned a lot so keep it up. A couple of one-offs and we’ll close. What truth do you have to preach yourself most? What is the most common self-talk for you?

Patience. Having four kids, being a husband and never wanting to make anybody around me feel like I’m busy. We’re all busy. That’s the buzzword of the century. When you look at people’s lives, they’re not that busy. To have the patience for things that are stupid or to me, they’re stupid, but to the people that are troubled by it, it’s a big deal. To be patient, meet them, and help them see that what’s going on around them is overcomeable. You can’t tell somebody it’s overcomeable, but to be patient and to not get jaded into like, “Are you joking me? I don’t have time for this.” If I can be patient, help or work with them and for myself that what’s going on is overcomeable. This is going to work out. This isn’t the end. Honestly, I’m not relying on myself. I’ve been well prepared. I have a lot of gifts and will but I can’t do it. It’s out of my control. I’m reminding myself to do my best, make decisions, surround yourself with great people but at the end of the day, it’s out of my control.

It’s something I’ve been telling myself a lot too. God brings the fruit. We can’t force fruit to come. We can do our best, we should and need to. Submitting to that is huge. What you mentioned about being busy, it seems like that is such a common theme because we’re being filled and we’re filling our lives with things that don’t matter like our phones and social media. It’s constantly bombarding us more than ever before. It feels fuller and busier than ever before but we’re getting less done so we aren’t that busy. It’s because we don’t have the discipline or control over our time as much that we feel busier. It’s interesting. Do you have any cornerstone habits?

I listened to a few of your great podcasts and I heard this question, I’m like, “I’m probably going to be asked that question.” Prayer would be number one. After that, things may become rituals as opposed to habits like coffee and things like this. Being with that crew of 4 or 5, those are my habits that I know as silly as it may feel at sometimes, you don’t have time to get up or you’re up late. I bailed on them. That’s a big cornerstone. You don’t realize that in the 1 or 2 hours that you are there, but over the course of years, you realized, us making that time together has grown and made a big impact. I also have a handful of people that when I’m overwhelmed with a challenge, we’ll call and shoot the breeze with. There’s so much insight from people that have been there and done that to give you perspective. These aren’t cornerstone habits.

[bctt tweet=”Don’t get stuck at your desk. Go do something and meet somebody today.” via=”no”]

In essence, they are, honestly. They’re just a different genre. Those are awesome. If you were to give a TED Talk, what would you speak on?

I would like to prepare a TED Talk directed at Millennial parents. Taking the things that I’ve learned as an older end of the Millennial spectrum, having kids young, having a non-Millennial mindset and shaking of saying, “If you mess this up, as you are becoming a homeowner and a husband or a wife and a parent, the consequences are going to be devastating.” I don’t know what I would say yet, but I do have a lot of scattered thoughts in that.

That would be a good talk. Here’s the tough one. What do you believe to be true that you wish everyone else believed to be true?

It would be nice if everybody believed that Jesus was who He said He was because we would have some common ground to realize that all of these things that He’s taught the world that nobody gives Him credit for, and these principles to live life by to have a fruitful, non-depressive life. We wouldn’t see all of the anxiety and challenges that our world is facing as we have attempted to strip a lot of that out of society and say, “Live by these principles.” Do what makes you happy and see how happy you are in a few years. If that was a common ground or when you look at some of these other areas of the country that aren’t LA, you start seeing more of that which is cool. I’ve never lived in that setting but I’ve gone to these places and be like, “It’s a little different here. There are a lot of happy people that are positive.” You realize that’s a common thread.

What books have you gifted to others most and why?

Most of the books that I have gifted is The One-Minute Manager that I’ve bought 100 copies of. I teach a leadership class at the company and that is the book you have to read before you start. It strips down management into a story about a young manager pursuing what does it take. He meets a bunch of bad managers and meets the guy that walks him through. It strips it down to too simple but it’s a great starting point. The premise is to learn praising and redirecting. If you can praise and redirect somebody well, you are on the right track.

There is a right way and a wrong way or less effective ways and it takes practice. The other book would be The E-Myth and The Oz Principle, which is this idea of don’t operate below the line and how do you get above the line. It’s what it refers to but it compares it to the Wizard of Oz. You have all these characters who believe they don’t have something that they need to be successful. This mythical person Oz says, “Here you have it.” All of a sudden they believe they have it and they can do it, which is a great one for teams and group dynamic. I signed a few years ago Leaders Eat Last and the first chapter is amazing. The whole book is great but all of his books have the same vein. He keeps getting paid a lot to write books so good for him.

Beyond those, are there any books that have had the biggest impact on you?

Wild At Heart, have you even heard of it?


You’ve also had all sorts of books that I’ve never even heard of. That one is right up your alley. That one I should read. There’s a handful by others. They have an impact on your life when you read them. You don’t know how they’ve influenced you, and you move on.

If you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say in it and why?

Don’t get stuck at your desk. Get out, go do something and meet somebody new. As you start getting onto those operational, things start taking off and you’ve done it for a while, you’ll forget how you got there, you got there through communicating and being in the mix. I have to do that in different ways now that I have four kids and my life is different. To continue to be out there, meeting people, involving yourself and not getting complacent with that. How does that come in a text? Go meet somebody new.

Tyler, thank you for coming on. Where’s the best place if people want to reach out and say hi? Where can they find you?

I have a private Instagram account. I never check LinkedIn. I haven’t logged in to Facebook in a few years. I say these things because I’ve been toying with this idea of creating a new public Instagram handle. I have it, it is still private. Anyhow, I would say email me. It’ll get to my inbox and I will do my best to reply, but it’s

One of the other things that people said is you’re a contrarian. Not having social media or much of a social or public presence is contrarian of you, but it’s refreshing. Keep it up. Thanks, Tyler. For all of you, we hope you have an up-and-coming week.

Important Links:

About Tyler Wilson

UAC 177 | New Market Niche

Tyler Joel Wilson grew up in Santa Barbara, California as the oldest of four siblings. At a young age, Tyler was diagnosed with dyslexia, leading his family to travel around California and Hawaii to best support his development. Being born into an entrepreneurial family, Tyler began his first business at the age of five, selling his Grandpa’s oranges on the street corner, making up to $100 a day. As a high schooler, at age 15, Tyler began his first real business – Turtle’s Frozen Drinks, renting out margarita blenders for private parties throughout the Santa Barbara area.
Through his athletic accomplishments in both water polo and swimming, Tyler was accepted to the University of Southern California.After finding a way to enroll in USC’s Business School, Tyler left USC four years later with no degree, but having a business education that would allow him to push forward his professional goals.
In 2008, at 22 years old, Tyler co-founded and opened Wurstküche in downtown Los Angeles with his cousin, Joseph Pitruzzelli. Selling exotic gourmet sausages paired with Belgium and German beers, Wurstküchequickly established itself as one of the top restaurant destinations in the city. Tyler and Joseph opened a second location in Venice, CA in 2011.
Now, Tyler regularly speaks on entrepreneurship across the country, including on the USC campus to both undergrad and graduate students. He also mentors high school students interested in business.
Tyler currently resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and their four children.

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UAC 176 | Intentional Activist


Entrepreneurship opens up various opportunities to help make people’s lives better, not only with the products you make but the causes you support through them. Changing capitalism by helping others buy better through ethical and impactful shopping, Rachel Kois of Simple Switch joins Thane Marcus Ringler to tell us the amazing things he has been doing in pushing the power of entrepreneurship to solve some of the world’s most serious problems. She takes us into her online marketplace that puts social cause at the forefront of every product there is. An intentional activist, Rachel embraces the belief that you can make a difference. Join her in this episode as she talks about her journey as an entrepreneur, the difference between charity and empowerment, learning how to receive feedback, and more.

Listen to the podcast here:

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Rachel Kois: Being An Intentional Activist: An Entrepreneur’s Vision For Changing Capitalism, Helping Others Buy Better Through Ethical And Impactful Shopping, And Embracing The Belief That You Can Make A Difference

This is a show all about learning how to live a good life, which we believe takes living with intentionality. Intention in the tension is the mantra because life is full of tensions that we have to live in the midst of daily. This is unpacking stories from others in the process of becoming and we are all becoming every single day as we learn our entire lives. Thank you for being a fellow up and comer on this journey and walking alongside us by tuning into this show. We’re grateful that you’re here and we can’t do it alone. That is the reality we are in.

I’m excited to share with you the interview. Before we get there, a few reminders, if you haven’t left us a rating and review on iTunes or Apple Podcasts, that is a great way to help our show be found by more people. A review I will read and if you leave one, we may read it on air. A review from Rwqhcrm titled Genuine, Inspiring and Challenging. The review says, “I enjoy the honesty and diversity that this show brings. Thane is legit in his desire for authenticity, discipline and improvement. It’s worth the time.” Thank you for those kinds of words. It means a lot to me. If you want to help our show, that’s a great way to do it.

A second great way to help our show is by sharing. You can take a screenshot of this episode now, tag @TheUpAndComersShow on socials or text it over to a few friends. That’s an awesome way to spread the word. Finally, financially, if you want to support us with some dollars, that is a great way to keep the lights on and keep the show running. It does take money to do this. We would appreciate your support. Patreon is a place where you can make monthly donations to the show. Go to and search for The Up And Comers Show. That is the housekeeping for now.

Our guest is Rachel Kois. She is the CEO and Founder of, an online marketplace for ethical and impactful shopping. Think like Amazon except every one of the 3,000-plus products has a positive social or environmental impact. They aim to shift some of the trillions spent online in 2020 to everyday products and gifts that support orphan care, planting trees, combating climate change and more. She believes deeply in the power of entrepreneurship to solve some of our world’s most serious problems.

When she isn’t working to harness the power of capitalism for positive impact, Rachel loves rock climbing, drinking craft beer, and taking care of her vegetable garden and five backyard chickens. Her first-ever entrepreneurial adventure was a knitting business and she’s traveled to 28 countries. She’s a stubborn idealist committed to authenticity and making a difference. This interview was awesome and wide-ranging. We covered a lot of things including being intentional activists, learning how to receive feedback, changing habits, knowing what’s helpful with recycling and composting. It’s something that I was interested in learning from her.

The difference between being dogmatic and being passionate, her journey so far as an entrepreneur, the difference between charity and empowerment, her goal of changing capitalism, which was also interesting, running successful internship programs, her future vision and much more. I was impressed by Rachel’s breadth of knowledge even at such a young age and her humility, skills and leadership so far. I was excited to learn from her about the internship program she runs. It’s impressive what she’s able to do with interns and that’s near the end of the conversation. You’re going to want to read all the way for that. She also provides a little discount code if you wanted to know it at the end. Make sure you read the full interview. It’s worth your time and I enjoyed it. Check out what she’s doing at Simple Switch. It’s a great way to spend some meaningful dollars this Christmas holiday season. Without further ado, please enjoy this interview with Rachel Kois.

Rachel Kois, welcome to the show.

Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

UAC 176 | Intentional Activist


It’s great to have you on. We have so much that I am excited to know from you on. I want to start here. One of the things I like to do in talking to people about the guests, I ask them to describe Rachel in two words. Here are some of the words they used, “Intentional activists, gritty, relentless, beautiful soul, ambitious, determined, unafraid, bold and authentic.” Not to pop-up the ego too much but I want to encourage you with those. I want to dive into the first one, the intentional activist. What does being an intentional activist mean?

That is such a compliment. I love that that was what came first to mind with people because I know these were rapid-fire questions you were asking. For intentional activists, the first thing that comes to mind for me is my own awareness and self-worth. Making sure that I’m holding a humility that allows for constant change because I come from a privileged background. A lot of the things that I’m an activist for are not things that always directly impact me. Whether that be the environment, I live in a beautiful place that’s somewhat less impacted than places where marginalized communities are, but also things like poverty or racism, I’m personally unaffected by. Making sure that I’m being a good listener because I think it can run the risk of a white savior complex. That word tends to make people feel a little off-center and freaked out. It’s making sure to be a good listener so that I’m being the actress that people want or need. Still, I like those words that people thought. That’s great.

To underscore that, getting positive feedback and encouragement from people is underrated and underpracticed. We could all do a better job of giving people words of encouragement or speaking life into them. I’m glad that happened there. Being a good listener, is that being a crucial or an integral part of being an intentional activist? What helps you be a good listener and how have you grown in it? Vice versa, you could also talk about what prevents you from being a good listener.

Ego and pride are what prevents me from being a good listener. If someone says, “You’re not good at this. You might not understand this,” it’s hard to sit with that. Instead of saying, “No, I am. I’m great. People say I’m an intentional activist.” It’s hard to move past that in some moments. It takes practice. That’s why I liked the word intentional in there, not just activists because I’ve had to train myself to be open to feedback. That’s not to say that I’m perfect at it by any means, but I’ve luckily been trained in some groups that I’ve been a part of, but then also trained by the practice of taking those hits sometimes and realizing, “I’m not that good at that.” That’s not something we need to wallow in, but be able to look at that with a lot of honesty and figure out how we can be a better listener and take more action in those areas.

I love how you talk about taking action and we’re going to dive into a lot of that. When you talk about getting trained and becoming good at getting feedback, because this is home for all of us and even for me, now that I’m newly married. I’ve been married for about 8 or 9 months and that’s a whole other realm of getting that feedback. Especially for me, it’s the person that I loved most. That feedback is hard to hear and it hits at an emotional level a lot of times. For you, in your training and work, what would you say is the process you’ve gone through? What have you learned in becoming better at getting feedback?

It is almost an inside joke for many of my close friends. Anyone who’s reading this who was with me on this journey will recognize this. I was part of an organization for a little while where I did a year abroad doing mission and service work. They do a lot of training around feedback. It’s not necessarily because it’s a good skill but because I think if you send a group of young people out who are going to be traveling together, they should have this training or they’re going to tear each other apart. If you’re not learning how to do it in a healthy way, then you’re learning how to do it in an unhealthy way with the world race. They do a great job with feedback and let us through several trainings about simple things like when you receive feedback, making sure to wait 24 hours before responding.

That simple practice can help whether it be in a team relationship like that or a personal relationship like your marriage or I practice this with my boyfriend as well. We try to wait 24 hours so that you can have that sitting with it. You can pass over that initial sting and that initial defense mechanism of saying, “No. I can’t be that bad at this.” This is relationship-dependent. You have to build up this trust, but realizing that feedback is coming from a place of love and a place of wanting to help you reform into the best version of yourself.

It’s not needless criticism. That’s different than feedback, but if you’re able to say, “I see that you’re falling short in this area and you could be awesome. Here’s a way that you’re not awesome. Let’s be thinking about how you can grow in that.” On an internal level, being able to take it and say, “This isn’t someone attacking me. This is someone helping me grow and helping me build. That means they believe in me because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t take the time or energy or emotional energy to say these things to me.”

UAC 176 | Intentional Activist

Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts

That’s helpful, practical and actionable. The only way you get good at feedback is by going to the reps at the end of the day. It’s easy to talk about it. As I grew from child to adult, in a sense going through high school, college, early career days, that was probably the thing that made the biggest difference in my own personal growth. I love that you’re hitting this home. Receiving feedback and waiting 24 hours is such a great practice.

It’s hard because you want to have the last word in a lot of those situations, but it makes all the difference.

To get back to intentionality, acting and taking action, one of the things that were said about you as well is that, “She lives the life she espouses.” One of the examples that I want to know about is what you decided to do in 2018 for a full year? What that commitment was, why and what came from it?

I’m assuming you’re talking about the waste thing?

If there is something else, you can go too.

I was thinking because I started my company in 2018 but I didn’t do it for the full year. I want to make sure. In the end of 2017, I generally tried to hold off on New Year’s resolutions that are going to look like, “I’m going to do this thing this whole year,” because mostly because I know I likely will not succeed and I will have grander aspirations for this commitment. For some reason, at the end of 2017, I was watching a BuzzFeed video. It’s something super simple and something that was viral about a community in Japan who changed their waste stream systems. That they would be the first zero-waste community in Japan.

I was amazed by that. I thought it was cool, this idea of changing our habits to make a positive impact. That’s a big part of what we do for Simple Switch. For me personally, I said, “Maybe I could change my habits. Not put rules on what am I allowed to do or not allowed to do but say, “What intentionality can we create?” I decided that any waste that I made if it wasn’t compostable or recyclable, I had to keep it. I’m giggling because I’m doing this interview from my bedroom. There was a bag in the corner for all of 2018 where I would have the trash that I was creating. The reason I set it up that way is I had seen videos. There’s someone I look up to who runs a plastic-free store and she had done for the whole year all her trash fit in this tiny jar but I knew that probably wasn’t realistic for me.

I didn’t set it up that I was only allowed to make a certain amount of trash because I knew I love Oreos. I knew if I cut myself into this strict deal, I wasn’t going to make as much progress but if instead of buying whatever I want and then throwing it away, I always had in the back of my mind what the consequence was going to be and I was going to have to keep it. That was going to help me make that progress more naturally and it did. A few years later, everything I touch I think about, “What’s the end-of-life solution for this thing?” If that’s the trash, I’m thinking about, “Is that worth it?” The consequence is weighing it whether that be for emotional or practical use, “Is this going to be worth it?” That was a weird year. I got a lot of weird lucks.

How big was the pile at the end of the year?

[bctt tweet=”Ego and pride are what prevents people from being a good listener.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

It was smaller than you think and it weighed a lot less than you think. I don’t have the statistics right off the top of my head but I think that the average American makes 150 pounds on average of landfill waste a month. In over a six-month period, which was the first time I weighed it, it was 6 pounds. I was a little bit below average anyway. I’ve grown up in a family that recycles things like that, but I thought that was incredible. A lot of it is not gross trash. It’s some plastic wrappers and plastic waste generally. I would have waitresses come up and say, “Can I take your plate?” I’d be like, “No, I’m going to take this home.” They’d be like, “You’re finished.” I was like, “I know but you gave me this piece of paper and I don’t think you guys compost so I have to take it off.”

It’s such a great trigger to remind and have it be front of mind when you’re seeing it every single day and what a powerful tool for changing habits. I’m curious because it’s something that I don’t know as much, I’m sure a lot of people reading would love to know more on it as well. When you think about these areas of recycling, composting, trash, what are some of the easiest things to learn about that will make the biggest difference in our actions? There’s so much unknown for the average consumer in those spaces. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from your experience in that realm.

The top couple things that come to mind, one is that a lot of times local recycling centers have different requirements. Sometimes you need to sort your recycling. Here in Colorado, a lot of places have single-stream recycling. You can have all your recyclables in the same bin. Getting on and Googling your city and recycling rules figuring out there might be free recycling pick-up where you are or there might not be, getting familiar with those things. If that means that you land on, “I can’t do this yet.” That’s okay but at least getting familiar so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. I don’t think that should take too long. That’s an easy one. If you are in Colorado, we have amazing recycling.

I was texting with one of the guests from our podcast who works at the recycling center near me. I’ve learned a lot from her and from the eco-cycle which is near us. I get nerdy about composting. That one is a little bit trickier than recycling mostly because a lot of places and localities don’t have a composting set-up. In a lot of places, especially if you’re anywhere near a bigger city, there are private composters popping up where they will come and get your compost and take care of it. The thing that’s cool about composting is that with recycling, it’s better than throwing it in the trash but it’s still not great. We’re still creating those materials that are going to use up a lot of carbon footprint, not just the materials going in the landfill. Thinking about reducing and reusing things before recycling is important.

With composting, these are natural things like your food and other things that are created. They certainly have a carbon footprint too but much less than creating something like plastic. We love that. We love the natural materials, then it’s like the way that it was intended. Usually, if there was food waste, it would go on the ground and then it would become dirt and that dirt would help things grow better. I’m into gardening. That’s why I get excited about composting because your plants are less susceptible to bugs, disease and all these different things if they’re put in compost as opposed to other types of soil, which I think a lot of people think that compost and normal soil are the same.

Learning a bit about that might make you as fired up about it as I am. I think it’s cool. I did worm composting while I was doing that zero waste year. I don’t think that’s for everyone because some people might be a little freaked out by that but I had a ton of fun. Worms are made for this. They’re made for getting the food, eating it, pooping it out and making something that’s going to make all of our plants stronger. The other cool thing is that compost pulls carbon from the atmosphere. Not only is it strengthening our plants and our food systems, but it’s also helping to directly combat climate change. It feels like a magic trick to me.

How do you describe or what is your current composting practice? What does that entail? What do you do personally?

I was doing the worm composting thing. Honestly, I was a little too disorganized for it so I stopped doing that. People do backyard composting. I’m doing compost pickup with a private compost company here in Colorado called Compost Colorado. There’s another one I’ve learned about that I like called Wompost that does some outside of Denver communities. I live in a house with seven people and we all compost our food scraps as well as things like paper and paper towels. We put it in a bucket and it gets taken away. In the spring, they will bring us a portion of the compost that is created so that we can use it in our garden.

UAC 176 | Intentional Activist


I love how you broke it down because a lot of the things that you hear not necessarily from verified sources but in hearsay is that recycling isn’t that helpful or it doesn’t make a difference. There are a lot of faults in the system and all of that. What you said about reducing and reusing is such an actionable, tangible thing while also trying to get informed by doing a simple Google search in your area. Those are actionable things that we all can do. That’s sweet to be able to break that down.

I’ll add something there because there are faults in the system for sure with recycling. One thing that we’ve gotten involved in with Simple Switch is that we are plastic neutral. What does that mean? We’re climate neutral. We pay to offset the carbon footprint that we have, but we also pay to offset the plastic footprint that we have. What that means for us is if someone buys a product that has a certain amount of plastic packaging, we are paying to have that amount removed from the landfill waste stream and taking care of it responsibly. That might mean that it goes into a waste stream. You have all started to see things pop up on the market that is made of recycled materials. That’s one cool way that we can use recycling is by putting it back into other materials.

I’m currently wearing leggings that are made of plastic bottles. There are many cool uses. The other thing that it does which I think is one of the main faults of the system but this one especially is that there’s a poor treatment of waste workers in landfills as well. With the recycling system, the company that we work with, rePurpose Global, not only removes the waste from the system and disposes of it correctly, but they’re also working for fair conditions for the people at the end of the waste stream. Apparently, people in the waste stream often have a life expectancy of around 30 years old because of all the toxicity and things like that. When I say it’s better to reuse and reduce, those end-of-life are what we’re trying to avoid. It’s always going to be better than putting it in the landfill because then you have those human consequences as well as the environmental consequences that we’re avoiding.

Thank you for sharing that. That’s insightful and it shows how complex everything is, and how we can feel good about doing a small step but oftentimes there’s more that can be done in one small step, never solves the whole puzzle.

It is still worth it. That’s a balance but I never want anyone to read this and say, “That sounds too confusing. I’m not going to do any of it,” because if all you can do now is recycle a plastic bottle, please do that.

Back to the year 2018, Simple Switch is what was founded then. I wanted a quote of yours that I’ve read and I know is undergirding your mission. You said, “I believe that every dollar you spend is a vote for the future you want. Actual voting is important. The second to that, the way we spend our money is important in creating that future.” How did this understanding and concept go from an idea in your head into the reality that it is now? Even before you get to that journey of Simple Switch, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that quote.

It feels starker now since we went through an actual election season. We see the power of an actual vote and there was so much advocacy around that that I do think was important. It was interesting because we often say, “Vote with your dollar.” It was interesting doing that in cahoots with, “Vote with your vote too.” The idea of, “Voting with your dollar,” when we are going through our everyday lives, we’re not looking too closely at the way that money is shifting in everything that we’re learning, seeing and consuming. The truth is that money is power in a lot of ways. If we are spending our money in a way that is giving power to people who are out of alignment with our values, then that is directly if subconsciously voting for a future that’s out of alignment with our values.

It’s been fun in 2020 to see people grasp that idea more especially surrounding everything that’s happened with the pandemic, and the way that small businesses have been affected. Everyone is grasping the intentionality that goes behind their spending. Whether that be buying from black-owned businesses or small businesses or impactful businesses like our partners, people are grasping that and encouraging others to do the same. It’s been beautiful to watch. We’ve seen a few major corporations gain trillions in 2020, while other smaller businesses that might be more in alignment with what we want go out of business. That is a huge system. You changing where you buy your coffee is probably not going to be the tipping point for that system to change. If that is a collective consciousness change and many of us change those things, then that’s what changes the world, which I feel passionate about. That’s how it went into.

UAC 176 | Intentional Activist

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself

To dive into this a little bit more, you also hear these ideas that I think are important as well that you vote with your attention, with your likes and who you follow. Those were all votes. If we start thinking about that more, it helps us be more intentional with each of those. With that, there’s always pushback and nuance in the system. In the sense that we are all grateful for Amazon in many ways because it’s conveniently added to our lives in ways that we couldn’t have imagined. The same is true with Apple. I have an iPhone and Apple MacBook. These are the things I’m grateful for. There’s tension there. There are these two opposing forces. How do you personally live in that tension well between the ideals of what we’re striving for, the reality we’re facing, and living in the midst of those?

I went to Walmart to pick up some Christmas lights and it’s interesting because I think people who know me, my values and what I do professionally, especially people who don’t know me that well, maybe intimidated and think like, “I’m not going to tell Rachel I bought this Amazon purchase. She’s going to be disappointed in me.” I agree more with what you said of there’s this huge tension. My company wouldn’t be able to exist without the infrastructure that Amazon has perpetuated. Not to say that I am in any way wholeheartedly glad that Amazon exists or for the impact that they’ve made. You’re right that there’s nuance in this balance of what exists, and then once it exists, how we use that.

On a personal level, I have a business mentor who’s the head of the entrepreneurship department where I studied. When I was talking to him about my company, he was saying, “You have to check the balance because you want to be the face of your company and you want it to be personal.” I tried to do that with Simple Switch, to show my personal journey along with what we’re doing corporately. He said, “You have to be careful because if you push too much into being that, then people might start attacking you for having a hamburger if you go to McDonald’s or something like that.” That gripped me for a while, this idea and it still does sometimes of, “If I make a mistake, then it reflects poorly on this entire idea of ethical shopping, on this entire idea of how we can be more intentional but with our dollar, but with our intention.”

What was beautiful about this journey is that it is full of mistakes and that’s way more authentic. In saying, “I’m a zero-waste person,” people can’t connect with that. That’s our company values instead of iterating it often. That comes from a personal place of similar to what we were talking about before with the listening, making sure that I’m always willing to learn. Sometimes that’s going to be stubborn. For instance, I’m learning a lot more about ethics, environmentally and socially around veganism, vegetarianism and why people do that. I haven’t made that change even though I have been given a lot of information there and I’m still learning about it. It’s okay to wrestle with those things and figure those things out. Also, to make mistakes and encourage people to take small steps. My journey is being honest that none of us are perfect and nonjudgmental.

I resonate with what you said there because for me as a golfer and being my career for a while, my whole life was geared around optimizing my performance. My expectations for myself were way beyond the average person because of the nature of what I was trying to do and the atmosphere and environment. What that did was it fueled growth and progress for myself. It also disconnected me from the reality of most people. It becomes unattainable in anyone’s thoughts, views or perceptions of you. It also becomes more robotic or inhumane. You’re hurting yourself and you’re influenced by doing that, even though it feels like leading by example or all those things. It’s an interesting dichotomy there. What you said also makes me think of maybe the difference between being passionate versus being dogmatic. You can be passionate about something but you don’t have to be dogmatic and say that you have to do this or else you’re a horrible person.

I love the book, Dare To Lead, by Brené Brown. You have to go through and pick out of this huge list of values, your top two values. For me, one is making a difference. That’s probably not going to surprise anyone who knows what I do for a living. The other is authenticity. In my personal relationships, hopefully that shows. In a professional way that becomes more of a wrestling match of, “How do I show who I am and what I’m working through, while also being this good leader of this movement or what we’re doing to make a difference?”

I want to talk about Simple Switch. I’d love to know a brief description of what Simple Switch is for people who don’t know. I’d love to know when this idea first was birthed within you?

I love that you didn’t start with this because I’m on a lot of podcasts where that’s all we talk about, which is great. I love talking about Simple Switch but this is a fun change of pace. Simple Switch is an online marketplace for ethical and impactful shopping. We either say ethical impact shopping or we say positive impact purchasing. The idea is that we are somewhat of an alternative to something like Amazon where you can’t know what exploitation or destruction is going on behind the products that you’re buying. There are all sorts of nuances there but it is something that generally our society is trying to move away from. It’s that disconnection, although it is convenient, that ignorance to the whole product and the whole journey that it goes through.

We sell more than 3,000 products. It’s everything from toilet paper to jewelry. I can probably reach out and touch ten things next to my chair that was from Simple Switch that I have because they are practical needs in my life. That’s what I like about our site. It’s not encouraging people to buy more, it’s encouraging them to buy better. The list goes on and on with these amazing social enterprises and environmental enterprises we work with. Coffee, toilet, paper, soap, stuff you use every day but it makes a difference.

[bctt tweet=”The idea of changing capitalism is putting so much positive pressure on companies.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

What I love about it is it’s clear and defined. That’s such a hard thing to do in any young company is to get a clear and defined explanation, vision and mission that people can understand, get behind and join forces with. The way you described, it shows the hard work of getting that clarity that’s happened over the last few years and not buying more, buying better, ethical and impactful. The way you described it was a good example of putting in the hard work to get clarity around that, so people can rally and support. That doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen by chance. It takes a lot of failures and iterating, etc. Take us back to that early stage of this idea blooming. Where did that stem from? What were the forces that were fueling this origin?

That is such a deep compliment, what you said. It’s only the insight that an entrepreneur would be able to pick out. We do underestimate the idea of messaging and how that grows and changes. I have become barely but somewhat of an expert, definitely more than most people on these things. For me, it’s easy to ignore the fact that the messaging makes perfect sense to me, but not necessarily to everyone else. That is a huge thing that we’ve worked on. Thank you for recognizing that. Simple Switch got started in 2018. I had the idea in 2015 when I was still an undergrad at CU Boulder. I had gotten back from a trip to South Africa. I went on a study abroad/internship to do business consulting with underrepresented and under-resourced entrepreneurs in townships near Cape Town.

It’s still one of my most amazing journeys and life-changing. It’s cool and a little scary to think where would I be if I hadn’t gone on that? We worked with incredibly talented entrepreneurs but they were financially under-resourced. The markets in South Africa are different where I feel I could start a business and have a market because of my social networks, personal networks, the financial privilege of most people around me would have a market quickly like we do in Simple Switch. These people were trying to start businesses with way more experience than me, way more knowledge than me. We were able to give them extra sets of hands as business students going in and creating specific deliverables whether that be a new marketing plan, a new accounting system.

My one client was a debt restructuring firm. That was interesting because I didn’t have any experience in that. The other was a Braai cook, which is a South African barbecue, which I feel spoiled because every time we went for a client meeting, we got an amazing South African barbecue. They were incredibly talented and wonderful. When I came back to the US, I felt frustrated that they wouldn’t be able to start a business as easily as I would be. I was an entrepreneurship student and we were constantly ideating new businesses for practice, even companies that we weren’t going to start. It felt like many of them could have been successful at least in a small way. That jumpstarted my thought process.

I’m still a student. I’m not necessarily looking to go change policies about this that doesn’t feel necessarily like my path. There are a lot of things I could do that I don’t think. What can I do as a consumer? As someone who buys things, what can I do to shift my purchasing to companies like this? I had started shopping from some social enterprises that were cool but I had never heard of them before. I’m figuring out, “How can I give those people more of my market share than companies that I don’t care about?” That is how the idea for Simple Switch was born because truly out of pure frustration. If this tool was only for me, I still think it would have been worth building.

It wouldn’t be the most financially responsible thing for me to keep it going if it was just me, but I was shopping for normal things, pants, toilet paper. You have to go through much research if you’re new to this journey about what do you think is fair trade? What is composting? What does that mean? What are these easy steps that we can take instead of having it be as convenient as something like an Amazon? At that time, they had the physical button that you could press and it would automatically send you new things. It’s truly as convenient as you can get. They died out because of smartphones but it was something that triggered it in my mind of, “This shouldn’t be as hard as it is.”

We live in the 21st century. This is clearly behind. We started the process of thinking about the infrastructure and learning about how I was going to start it. I did a year abroad at that time. I wasn’t working on Simple Switch in a practical way, but I was meeting a lot of the people that we now work with. Certainly not on a personal basis but meeting a lot of the communities and meeting a lot of the cultures that we now contribute to. We have a little bit better of an understanding of those things. For instance, we work with a company that works against sexual trafficking. When I was in Nepal, I was able to work with women who are coming out of sexual trafficking. Being able to put some personal relationships and faces on the work that we’re doing, and the way that the spending on our site matters. It makes it a lot more fun when I’m running budgets and spreadsheets here.

We’re going to get into some of that here in a bit but I want to go back to South Africa and the internship that you described as life-changing. Would you say it was the lengthy exposure in a different culture? Was it the personal relationships and the stories you saw? Was it the practical business experience? It could be all of those. How would you describe how your life changed before and after that internship?

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The Power of Moments (Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact)

The biggest thing is how grassroots and active it was. It made me a lot more excited to use my business skills. Business was originally a backup major for me. I also majored in theater performance which I love. Through the four years where I was studying Business, it became a lot clearer to me how much I could use that for things that I was passionate about. The business itself wasn’t the thing for me. It was how we can leverage business and the power of businesses. In the morning, we would be taking classes on how to do things and then in the afternoon we would immediately go put those things to work. That activated my work style. Even if we were doing that in a not so wonderfully and socially impactful way, that still would have happened.

The frustration about their lack of opportunity was a big change for me. One other thing that comes to mind for me a lot is this idea of charity versus empowerment. Our client had an unexpected technical failure with one of her ovens while we were there. It was one of the big industrial ovens with a huge hood. I think the hood broke so it wasn’t able to pull up the smoke and it was going to cause all financial issues for her. We were in teams of three South African students and three American students were working with, which was also amazing. I adore my teammates so much but me at night when we were getting ready for bed, my two American teammates and I started a GoFundMe. Within twelve hours, we had enough money to pay to fix this woman’s oven.

At that time, I had done more thinking than average about charity versus empowerment. That was something I was interested in as I learned more about business in a way of empowering people. My professor, the same one that I mentioned who gave me the warning about the hamburger, we were all staying in one big dorm building together and walked down the hall. He asked what we were doing. We told him that what was done is done. We had already raised all this money. He said, “It’s fine. Do pay for the oven.” That’s not something that we encourage in this program because we are looking to do empowerment here and not charity.

We’re not looking to come in and say, “I have more financial resources in the United States so I can spread those to you and pay for the thing that you need.” It’s more, “How can we empower you to leverage the resources that are around you here in your South African community?” That is something that I’m still extremely passionate about, learning new things about every day, trying to be a better listener about. I think that that was a big perspective shift for me as well of, “We shouldn’t just fix these problems by putting Band-Aids on them. We need to figure out how we can go into communities and make those larger changes.”

The book that I read that came to mind that was enlightening in some ways about this was When Helping Hurts. That one was helping me get my mind around it, especially from a white American perspective, it’s a helpful book for that. In this idea of charity versus empowerment, I feel like it speaks to short-term change versus long-term change and the big difference there. I know from some of the research I’ve done, one of your company values involves a tree. I’d love to hear a little bit about that and how that ties in.

This value is our newest value. It’s the value of a Tamarisk tree and a Tamarisk tree is a type of tree that grows in the Middle East, specifically in Israel, that produces more humidity, more water content in the air and more shade than many other types of trees in that area. Because that’s a hugely dry, arid and hot landscape, that’s valuable to have these trees. The catch is that these trees don’t grow to maturity for about 80 years. If you’re planting one of these trees, it is not for you. It’s also not even for your kids. You’re thinking two generations down the line.

In the rabbinical tradition where I heard this from say, “What Tamarisk tree are you going to plant today?” The metaphor being is, “What legacy are you going to leave that is not selfish. It’s not for you. It’s for future generations and making a long-lasting legacy change.” I think that’s beautiful. I would love to see Simple Switch be the company that effectively changes capitalism, to something that we can be proud of, that we can have as a force for good, that is taking care of people all over the world, and is integrating markets, and making people feel more connected. There’s so much that we can do with this power that has nothing to do with us. Although it might help us push forward some goals here, now and today for me and my family, I’m hoping that it’s also going to create a better world for future generations.

What Tamarisk tree are you going to plant today? That is an awesome question and such a great daily reminder too. When you think about how that plays out for you personally in your life, how does that question shape decisions, thoughts or even what you choose to do in your day? I know a lot is filled with running the business and all those things. I’m curious what other ways this question or this idea has played out for you and your life?

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It helps us to be unselfish. I do apply it the most through Simple Switch. Simple Switch is a big way that I’m able to leverage my time to make these long-lasting impacts but it also matters in the ways that we speak to people, treat our family. It may be the conversation that I’m having with someone is not going to affect them right now, but they might remember those words down the line. There’s a fun, super short TED Talk online that I was introduced to while I was in South Africa on that internship. It’s called Lollipop Moments. It talks about how this girl was going to college and she was waiting in the admission line and she was seriously considering going home and quitting.

She was nervous. Someone from the admission line brings her a lollipop and gave her a compliment. He will never remember her because he was doing it for hundreds of students but something about that moment changed her whole perspective. She went on to graduate and she wanted to do great things. Sometimes those Tamarisk trees are unknown as well. They can be from a place of kindness. I love that idea too that every interaction we have can make a positive or negative impact that doesn’t just have to be with spending.

When you think about our generation, people in their 20s or 30s or Millennials in this stage of life, what would you say are ways that we can practice this for our generation? What does that look like practically? It’s something that we all struggle with to some degree. We’re all cultural and our world is geared towards short short-term gratification. It’s geared towards a fast change, short change, things happening now. Getting into this long perspective is a practice in many ways. I’m curious maybe even what obstacles are preventing us generationally or what mindsets are going to help us shift that?

Maybe you’re alluding to this on purpose or maybe not. There’s a misconception about Millennials and down of being self-centered, self-focused, instant gratification, and those types of things, which hasn’t been my experience at all when I’m doing this work. That can certainly be true on a day-to-day basis of, “What am I doing?” When you ask about obstacles, I feel things like technology and I’ve heard a lot of things about Social Dilemma, about this type of thing. What’s the instant gratification that’s being programmed into us by our dopamine reactions in a way that no generation has encountered before?

When I look at this social and environmental impact aspect, I have run into thousands of people, specifically Gen Z but also Millennials, who are incredibly focused on these problems. They do want to make change and they want to make it quickly. They’re driven by making a better world for their children. Part of that is because the messaging that we’ve received has been a lot more urgent around these things. We’re more connected with people around the world or even with our neighbors, at least in an intellectual way like we know a lot about them. Even if sometimes it’s debatable whether there’s more connection. Because we have that knowledge, there’s been a lot of messaging around leaving things better than we found it.

I’m thinking especially environmentally. A lot of people in our generation and below have started to realize that they do need to be taking care of the Earth or it’s not going to be there for future generations. That urgency is an unfortunate reason that we might be good at that. It’s the same with social. We’re seeing people step up for racial equality. We’re seeing people step up for homelessness. It is one that I’ve seen a lot of people are doing some amazing education about, in ways that maybe has been ignored in the past. It’s not on purpose but it’s cool to see people doing a deep dive in those things.

One of my quotes that I’ve thought of often since hearing it was from this guy named Ed Zschau who was a teacher for Tim Ferriss. He said, “If you’re going to make a difference in society, changing the world for the better, you better be prepared for a long journey.” He went on to say, “You don’t get a quick return creating value for the world. You get a quick return doing something that doesn’t matter.” I thought that both of those are great reminders because what you said is true that more aware and more motivated than ever before is the younger generations towards this change.

Yet we need to taper some of that with the understanding and the reality that it takes a long time to make lasting and meaningful change. That helps us maybe have more sustainable longevity with that force for good. It’s a cool thing to hear from you from your experience perspective that this information is making a difference. Having more awareness around it is leading to more people wanting to do good in that. It’s not as sexy as all the negative and pessimistic headlines you hear about. We need to hear that because it’s not often portrayed.

That is interesting because there’s a distinguishment between people wanting to do more and people doing more. Sometimes that commitment, diving in and diving deep, making life choices around these things, I still do think our generation and below do a great job at this. We’re seeing more people do careers that they’re passionate about, whether that be nonprofits or other impact-driven things. There’s also a lot of fatigue that comes with this work. That’s something that I try to gamify for myself. I’m a seven on the Enneagram. This idea is important for me because if I’m not able to gamify it and make it fun, or at least allow for some pride in those things, it’s hard to stay motivated.

[bctt tweet=”Commitment is what distinguishes between people wanting to do more and people doing more. ” username=”upandcomersshow”]

That’s true for everyone but it’s been true on a personal level. What you were saying made me think of a conversation I had with a dear friend of mine who is a close personal friend but she might have been one of the people that you talked to. Her name is Quinn Antus and she was on our podcast. She runs a coalition for tech companies who are passionate about climate reform. We were with some other friends and talking about how interesting the pandemic has been watching people feel this urgency and take things seriously. As things haven’t changed that much circumstantially with case numbers or caseloads of things, seeing people become fatigued with that concern and how that has affected things.

She was comparing it to the way that people feel about climate change. It’s hard to have this big looming challenge that we should all be tackling. You don’t want to hit it with like, “The world is ending.” That’s not a good motivator but also, we have to figure out how to make these small wins in this huge systemic problem, creating those small wins for people. It is what you and I were talking about with composting and recycling. There are these small things that can feel like, “I did it.” Psychologically, I don’t think we can totally process the gravity and the weight of these huge systems without breaking it into smaller ones. Part of the job of any of us, those Millennials that we were talking about or you or I in creating this impact is translating it into those smaller goals. That’s hard to do but that’s super worthwhile because then you see people that spark go off in their brain. That helps them continue on their journey even if it’s a small win.

It seems like it’s reaching the deeper levels of it. As we grow up and grow through life, we have these goals or these benchmarks we set for ourselves or another set for us. As we reach them, we realize there’s so much more. There’s a greater world. There’s this bigger ocean. It keeps reiterating and repeating over and over again in bigger ways. That’s a reminder too that it’s not about a destination, it’s about enjoying that process and recognizing that, “Here’s that cycle again. I’m stepping into a bigger pool.” That helps us be more patient but also accepting of where we are. If we don’t accept where we are, we’re not going to be able to move forward.

The first thing that comes to mind is a song lyric, Aquaman by Walk The Moon. It says, “Just when you think you’re all adult swim, that’s precisely when somebody shows you to the ocean.” I like to think about that all the time because it’s exactly what you’re saying. There’s also a Nelson Mandela quote, “I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” Those wins are wonderful and they’re that instant gratification, but they’re also this motivation to keep going because there are bigger and better things that we’re realizing.

One of the things you brought up briefly earlier is this idea or a goal or dream of yours to change capitalism. I’ve heard you mentioned it several times. I’d love for you if you could break down a little bit of what changing capitalism entails? What does that idea mean?

I’ll preface this by saying I don’t feel like I am an expert economist. I’m speaking about my understanding of capitalism and my experience having with Simple Switch. The reason I preface with that is because I’m always trying to grow myself as an entrepreneur and as a person. I’ve realized that I talk about this often that I would like to dive deeper into philosophies behind various economies and economic systems. That is something that if we come back on this show in a year, maybe I’ll have a more thorough answer there. What I mean when I say it is that I think that at least the unbridled, pure capitalism, there are a lot of cool things about it.

There are a lot of cool ways that the free market works. I’m interested when we talked about charity versus empowerment. Free market is one of the ways that people can do that, but because there is evil and exploitation, those things are taken to a different level that is destructive. When we’re seeing capitalism as it is now, we’re seeing people who have $1 trillion. To give you an idea, if you stacked $1 million up on top of each other, that would be the height of a chair. That’s the part I’m iffy on but, $1 trillion, if you stack them up, they would go to the moon. It’s different numbers. It’s hard for us to grasp those things and understand.

We’re seeing corporations or even individuals with trillions of dollars who have come to that place because of the exploitation or at the least because of the use of the labor of other people who will never see $100. $100 is something that we can hold in our hands, $1 trillion is not. To grasp this idea and this discrepancy is difficult. It’s something I’ll sit, meditate on and try to understand the hugeness of the numbers that go into these companies. I run a small company where I’m agonizing over spending $100 on an ad to reach you, so that you can learn more about ethical shopping. Knowing that I’m going up against companies, even smaller ones, not as big as Amazon who have $1 million spending budgets for the same period is equally fascinating and frustrating for me.

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The idea of changing capitalism is putting so much positive pressure on companies. Eventually, this was always an idea from the beginning of Simple Switch. It’ll be interesting to see how it shakes out because think we could do it eventually. I would love for us to have such a strong and well-known infrastructure that we can do two things. We can reach up to larger operations to help them put in place more ethical practices. Whether that be environmentally or socially, we can help consult them. We can also reach down to entrepreneurs like the one I was working with within South Africa and say, “We have a demand for this product. I see that you have this skillset, you could start an amazing ethical company here that’s making a difference in your community and in the world. We can be a retail partner.”

We don’t have the power to do those things now because we don’t have the demand yet. We don’t have the customer base yet, but also we don’t have the infrastructure. I’m excited to grow. The thing is a company like Amazon could do those things. That’s where I see some of my frustration with these larger companies is that Simple Switch is built on the idea of, “Let’s get big enough that we can change the world.” To see companies that have gotten outrageously big and are not making those changes in the way that they could be, and solving some big problems in the way that they could be, it feels frustrating.

I understand the idea because I hear a lot of people saying, “Let’s get rid of capitalism.” I understand where they’re coming from because I do think that there are a lot of problems with it because of this evil and exploitation. I don’t personally think that’s probably realistic. For me, the way to solve those problems is to change the system from within, and change it to something that’s not only connecting people better but also allowing for these better ethical practices as the norm. It’s not something I would love to get to a place where a Simple Switch no longer has to say we’re an ethical marketplace because every marketplace is ethical.

It brings up a lot of great stuff. Before I forget, one of the economists I enjoy that you might see as a good place to get your feet wet is Tyler Cowen who has a podcast called Conversations with Tyler. That’s a great feet wetting place, even though they do deep dives.

I’m a big podcast person. I’ve been planning on diving into some big thick books, but it would be good to start at a podcast.

He has an amazing interview style. It’s unique that’s shooting from the hip that keeps these guests on their toes. They dive super deep into the concepts behind economics in a way that you learn a lot. You’d enjoy that. It makes me think of a quote also that Eric Hoffer said, “Every great cause begins as a movement, turns into a business, and degenerates into a rocket.” You see that in most of the large corporations. What you were mentioning too is that if you don’t start with the intention for good outside of yourself, then it won’t result in that. These companies didn’t have bad intentions, but they might have been selfish intentions. Over time that turns into bad effects or intentions or results.

Also, even lack of intention because I’m sure many companies grow with the intention of making a profit, which is not in itself a bad intention. It’s interesting how our society also doesn’t allow for those things to grow in an ethical and impactful way well. We’re applying to be a B Corp now. We’re finishing up the process. For us, we’re an LLC now. They have a legal requirement that you have to put in your legal paperwork language that expressly says that part of your business model is to make an impact. If that’s not there then you have a responsibility to your shareholders to maximize profit even if it’s not making this positive impact.

It’s interesting how this can drive some companies who the people who are running them might genuinely want to make this positive impact. One example that I don’t know a ton about but I’ve heard a bit about is Whole Foods going on with Amazon. They didn’t have anything in their legal structure to clarify the type of impact that they wanted to have. Now a lot of those things have changed because they’re under a different corporate structure. Because their shareholders include Amazon, the shareholders have to act in a way that’s best for those people. It’s interesting making sure that we’re giving ourselves those boundaries and anything to make sure we’re doing it.

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It shows also the complexity of the system and when you start getting public, there’s more opportunity to add more resources, but then you’re also more compromised in your mission and goals to now focus more so on returns, profits. This incentivizes what you originally intended or planned to do. Everything comes with trade-offs in that, which is why I think what is helpful about hearing from you on this and having this conversation is that changing capitalism is a great idea, a worthy cause and it’s complicated. Because people are pro or against capitalism, it doesn’t make them a good or bad person. There’s a lot of good that comes with capitalism and there’s a lot of bad. That’s true in most things in life.

You could say that about anything. Being able to change any system to where we’re minimizing the amount of negative that’s coming out of it and maximizing the amount of positive, that wraps up that question nicely. That’s what I mean by change capitalism.

I love that you approach that with humility in recognizing that there’s a lot you don’t know, but you want to learn. That’s where we all need to start. By having the conversation is where we get it started. The younger generation’s role is always to be and play the idealist. If we don’t do that, then no one else will because life is hard and doesn’t go your way. It’s suckier than it is good. We become more and more skeptical or cynical, the older we get naturally. It’s important to have idealistic pursuits as young people especially and then to back it up with the work which is what you’re exemplifying. If we go back, that internship in South Africa was that first inkling of grassroots, making things happen, getting the job done even with less resources.

I heard also that when you were getting going a year or two later with getting Simple Switch into the world, you met this obstacle of wanting to have someone develop your website and platform but not having necessarily the resources, and seeing it as an insurmountable task. I believe a mentor helped you shift your perspective on that to take action again. I feel like that ties in well. I’d love to know a little bit about that story and how our perspective shifts can often help us take action in that.

I was listening to a podcast from Brené Brown on brain elasticity and the way that our brains change. It is fascinating to me thinking about what I knew about eCommerce and online business before I met Adam, who’s this mentor you mentioned and after. Even with simple pieces of advice, which I’ll mention. I came back from the world race. That was that year abroad, feet on the ground, stoked about starting this company. I was like, “I’m not even going to apply for any paying jobs because I want to throw myself into this company but I didn’t have any technical experience.” I figured the first step was to find a technical cofounder who was going to develop the website. At that point, it was supposed to be a mobile app first, which we released. Now we’ve come full circle back to the mobile app.

It’s a lot easier to use than any website that’s why I’m loving it. I live in Colorado. Boulder and Denver are both tech hubs and there are a lot of cool tech people around. I was going to all these meetups and stacking potential developers. I wanted to find someone who I got along with well personally, who also would do it for free, who also was excited about impact. There were a lot of different niches I was looking for. I had a couple of people with who I was in early conversations with and it fell through. Maybe they didn’t have the time or things like that. Finally, it was an entrepreneurship speed dating event where you’d go and you say, “Pitch your idea to the six more successful entrepreneurs or business people and they give you feedback.”

It’s supposed to be a twenty-minute interaction. I was paired with Adam, which I’m super thankful for, who is my business mentor. He sat down, heard my pitch and it was encouraging. He’s excited about the idea and said, “What is stopping you from doing this after dinner?” I was a little bit incredulous like, “I told you I don’t have any technical experience.” He introduced me to Shopify, which has become such a deep part of my life for the past couple of years. It’s funny thinking about that I didn’t know what it was for the first year of pursuing this. It’s a platform that allows you to sell things online but they take care of some of the infrastructure and coding like how to run a payment platform.

I wouldn’t be able to code especially a secure payment platform the way that we use on Shopify. I think I had a misconception that Shopify was for people who were buying and selling things out of the back of their van, which I have no judgment for. I’m pro-van life but that’s not what I wanted Simple Switch to be. I realized that Adam’s company had done huge amounts of sales and that Shopify had companies that were doing millions in sales. I realized, “That’s probably big enough for us especially now.” He is still my mentor now. We talked through all the different things and ideas that I have, and it’s super encouraging. He works for a company that sells records now called Vinyl Me, Please. It’s a cool company. He’s the CFO. It complements some of those parts of entrepreneurship that don’t come as naturally to me. The connection to our partners comes naturally than other things, but not always the finance and the logistics. It’s been cool to learn more about these things.

I know also with that, you dove full-on into Shopify and that included learning how to code yourself. What was that process like in diving into the platform and becoming somewhat of an expert in the field of Shopify, and even learning how to code with zero technical background?

[bctt tweet=”Be a little bit more present and not so focused on what’s next.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

I am still far away from being any kind of expert about even Shopify but about coding. I have learned super basic HTML to make small changes to our website. A big part of that learning process was learning how to Google, how to do different things like what questions to ask. It’s also knowing when I am under-qualified because then I can reach out for professional help, whether that be for someone in my network or through someone in Shopify’s networks because they have a great network. Luckily, that platform is drag and drop.

A lot more of what I have learned are not those technical skills but a lot more about like UX and UI. Where should I put things on the website to make them easiest for my customers to find? When people are scrolling, where are they most likely to look so that I can put our bestsellers there? A lot of stuff that I never would have even thought to consider before owning this company, but had those doors opened to me by curiosity. It is the main thing of realizing, “We have a working website now and people are buying from it,” but we have this issue where they’re not buying this one thing and I can’t figure out why and looking into that. It’s about curiosity and problem-solving.

What is striking is that those are such cornerstone elements of being an entrepreneur and going on that journey. I love that because it seems like that deeper threshold of first learning that people can take action on little in South Africa and they’re making it happen and you can too. It’s that next deep dive of, “I need all the stars aligned. I can make the stars align through different tools that are out there.” One other thing that was mentioned in some of the research was a turning point for you in the company. That was with this concept that every entrepreneur and many people in life face in all realms. It’s this idea of imposter syndrome and how it affects us. I know I faced it in golf. I know I faced it now as an entrepreneur, as a coach in different realms. Everyone will come up against this. I’d love to know your experience of that as an entrepreneur of Simple Switch. What led to the turning point and how you’ve been able to experience or think about that since then?

I might talk my way into finding a turning point but I don’t even know if there has been one. The imposter syndrome is something that entrepreneurs deal with for their entire journey. It’s going to look different. I don’t feel like I don’t know how to create a business through the Secretary of State anymore. I overcame that part of imposter syndrome but I still feel like, “Am I the right person to steward the money that people crowdfunded for us? Am I able to do this technical task that we need to do in order to create?” With impact, it’s an extra level of imposter syndrome because I’m not only trying to figure out the technical logistics of the company, I want to make sure we’re a trustworthy company for everyone who comes upon us.

Making sure to back myself up with people who are smarter than me, and those mentors being willing to ask questions and be humble in those things. That sounds like the opposite of what you’d want to do for imposter syndrome. You want to build up confidence and say, “I am the best person for this,” but instead being able to say, “I have the tools to do this. Whether those tools be internal or external, they’re still valuable.” Another thing is through practice. Being a couple of years in, I remember I was uncomfortable or I was a little anxious to put CEO and Founder on my business card even though that’s definitely what I am at my company.

A few years in, I’ve written that many times that it’s true. Sometimes it’s about forcing yourself to say what is true and have that self-talk with yourself. Whether it be, “My real business title is CEO,” which is a simpler one or whether it’s, “I am deserving of a break.” There’s some imposter syndrome that goes into rest as well and the wholeness of being an entrepreneur. It’s not only those technical skills that we have imposter syndrome about but also, “My company is legit enough that I should give myself sick days.” That’s a constant journey. It’s going to look like different imposter syndrome all the way along.

It’s recognizing those things in yourself and continuing to work through them. When I’m at my best, I’m systemizing some of that stuff through journaling. I like to think about what I’m feeling insecure about, and then put that into the podcast search bar and see if there are any great resources that come up, whether that’d be a skillset or something more psychological or personal. That’s a strategy that’s felt helpful to me in that personal growth, which can directly combat imposter syndrome. Building up skills and also being willing to ask questions. As we were talking about earlier, that authenticity in leadership and authenticity in our growth allows us to feel less of that imposter syndrome, not more.

It’s counterintuitive. That’s the thing that holds us back the most. Much in life is counterintuitive in that. It’s not our immediate default response but asking questions, being humble, searching and producing self-confidence, those are such great ideas that we can use to overcome this thing that we all face. It’s not necessarily even like it’s a full overcoming. There are some good elements of it. It means that we’re reaching past what we may think we’re capable of, which is healthy.

UAC 176 | Intentional Activist


It’s a scary feeling that comes from some cool risk-taking.

I love how you sit with learn from and then try to systematize to overcome your weaknesses too. That’s such a great practice in all of life. We’d all do well to work on that. There’s much more I want to talk about. I’d love to know a bit about one of your strengths or superpowers that I heard from others. I already knew about from our connection at the coworking space. It’s the ability to leverage interns in a way that’s beneficial to them and also ethical and responsible, but also beneficial to you. I was impressed in hearing your presentation for startups, in September 2020 at the green spaces for that by what you had been doing with them, and in learning from others as well, it’s a strength. I’d love to hear how you approach interns and using that tool in a way that’s mutually beneficial?

My interns have been amazing. I’m 4 or 5 days away from the end of my current interns time period and I’m going to miss them a lot. That’s how I feel at the end of every round. The internship journey has been interesting with Simple Switch. It’s funny because the way you would say it is I’m the only paid employee but I’m not pulling a salary yet. I’m the only full-time employee. I have some other people who have volunteered to do various things like order fulfillment, data entry type of stuff. About a year into Simple Switch’s life, I was a mentor for a sorority at CU Boulder. I had one of the girls I was mentoring there asked, “Rachel, I need an internship for my major. I think Simple Switch is awesome. Do you guys offer internships?”

I had never thought about doing that before. That was part of the imposter syndrome thing like, “I can’t manage interns. I’m not worthy of that,” but because it was someone that I knew and someone who knew the company well, I accepted her. Some students have different ideas of what it was and what it is. Once she said yes, two people through her network also asked for internships. That was the first round. I will say that round was a bit of a mess logistically. They were cool and contributed a lot but as far as the way that I leveraged their time and even knowing what I needed done was tricky.

After that, I put out actual applications. I started working with actual universities to recruit that summer. One of my favorite stories is that I put out applications to several universities around Colorado. One of them being my alma mater, CU Boulder. One of my interns that round ended up being the career services guy from CU Boulder. He saw the application come through the office and he worked with me to make sure students were seeing those. He said, “I have a full-time job but I think your company is awesome. I would love to work for Simple Switch.” He’s still a good friend of mine. Every round has taught me how to be more of a leader but more of a manager.

I might have had leadership experience in my past but it’s hard to get managerial experience especially since I jumped straight from college into starting this company. There’s been some cool learning on how to manage better, how to better use their time to move the needle in my business as entrepreneurs. It’s been helpful to me because now I have five interns. If I only have two hands, then we have twelve hands working on these projects. They’re generally doing between 10 and 15 hours a week. You mentioned ethical internships. That’s something that’s been also interesting because that’s not something I knew a lot about for my first round. These people were knocking down my door looking for an internship so I didn’t have to think about it. I have since then learned a lot about unpaid internships.

There is some implication there of not paying people what they’re worth. That is not super ethical but then there’s also something I’ve learned more recently that under-resourced and marginalized communities can less likely take those internships because they don’t have the financial safety net to take an unpaid position. Other than not giving people money for their work, it’s also sometimes discriminating against marginalized communities especially communities of color who might not be able to take those internships. That’s something that I’ve tossed around in 2019. I’ll land somewhere else in the future but for now, I’ve landed that these people are looking for these opportunities. I try to make it extremely flexible so that it can be on this person’s own time. They would be able to do it around a full-time job.

We make it a little bit more accessible to people in those communities who might not be able to do it usually. That’s never going to be perfect but it opened my eyes as a recruiter and as a boss. Making sure that I’m being open to people’s mental health challenges, financial challenges as they’re working for me. That’s been interesting in 2019. The great thing about interns is that these people are making real changes in our company when you’re working for a small company like ours. One of my interns now is totally redesigning our blog. This isn’t a typical internship where you’re grabbing coffee for the boss. This is like, “I don’t have time to do this major structure of the company. Do you want to take a stab at it?”

UAC 176 | Intentional Activist


They get to move forward into their careers with things on their portfolio and resume that they would’ve never been able to glean before. It’s super fun. Now that the pandemic has hit, the last two rounds have been virtual. I’ve been able to have interns all over the country which has been fun. I miss having in-person intern meetings because I miss all people. It’s cool to have this group. Now, I have an intern handling our email systems. One who’s revamping our blog, one who worked closely with me on releasing the app, which is a huge deal for our company. One who is doing some website navigation and then because it’s Christmas time, she also worked on a lot of gift guides. One who is single-handedly running our ambassador program. It’s a big part of a company. They’re the ones making it happen.

I have a lot of respect for that. What you shared there was helpful in the sense that the first round was messy. That’s always true. It’s the same with writing a book. I love Anne Lamott who’s a great author on the experience of writing her book, Bird by Bird. It was great. She has a chapter titled Shitty First Drafts for a reason because the first rendition of anything is going to be messy and probably not great, but that’s where we got to start. I love the distinction of the difference between manager and leader. When you think about the role of interns and managing well, what would you say are a couple of principles or key lessons or components that is front of mind for you now as you think about your next round of interns?

I can’t place where I heard this concept but surrounding company values, I’ve heard people say it’s important to have your values not only be something externally or something that people have to memorize or know about you or something on your website. Have them be both external and internal. If they don’t apply to your workforce as well as the company that you’re presenting externally, then they’re probably not a thorough and good value. When I train our interns, I run them through the values and then talk about how each of them is both external and internal. For instance, the Tamarisk tree, which we talked about is one of our values. I talk about Simple Switch and the impact that we’re making. I want to be something that’s leaving a legacy for future generations. Internally, I also want the work that they are doing at Simple Switch to be something that’s going to help lead them into more fulfilling jobs in the future and leaving a legacy in their own life.

That’s true for all six of our values. That’s cool that we put it in the training, but that’s where most companies stop. One thing that I have found valuable and I’ve gotten feedback from our interns that has been cool for them is that I have them fill out a survey, especially because we’re virtual now. I have them fill out a survey each week about, “Here’s what I did. Here’s what went well. Here’s what didn’t go well.” I frame each of the questions in that survey around one of our company values. For instance, iterate often is one of our values. Externally, that means that we want to be learning from cutting edge science about climate. If we need to make a change in the way that we’re affecting ecosystems, we’ll do that or we talked about the white savior complex.

If we’re hearing that we are having more harm than good then we’re going to change what we’re doing. That’s iterate often on an external scale. Internally, that also is that feedback thing of, “I’m going to iterate the way that I’m working. I’m going to iterate the workspace I’m using even some of those little things.” If you were using a different design program and you realized, “This doesn’t work for what we’re doing,” small things like that. That’s a big one. It’s keeping those values front of mind because if they’re not active values, they’re not worth having. Managing myself around the interns has been an interesting journey. Learning how to do that work in between meetings to make sure I’m set up to give them the best chance that they can to make the best projects that they can.

That’s probably the trickiest because it’s easy to fall into a rhythm of we do one team meeting a week and then a one-on-one a week with each of the interns. It’s easy to fall into the rhythm of checking in during those one-on-ones, and then putting them out of my mind, but then they’re not able to leverage. I’ve been working on this company for years, so there’s a lot more in my head that I can divulge to them that will allow their projects to be more successful. Scheduling in that time to prepare for those meetings and to do the work that needs to be done is a big deal for me and one that honestly I still show them.

It is such a dance but what a cool tool to be able to leverage and what a great value add to them. That’s an honorable way to pursue it. The more it would do well from the following suit. Kudos to you on that. We could keep talking for a long-time but we’ll have to wrap this up at some point. Let’s end with a handful of one-offs here before we go. Before we get there, I’d love to know, as you look towards the future and even the next year or the next three years. What are some of those goals or vision that you see maybe not in that long-term but in the more midterm range for Simple Switch and for what you’re doing there?

One of the most nitty-gritty and boring, but not boring for me, a goal that I have for 2021 is getting to a place in sales that I’m pulling a salary. Every dollar that we make from Simple Switch, we are pouring it back into growing the company which is awesome. When you and I are talking about sustainability, I want this to be a sustainable company not only environmentally but also socially and financially. If it’s not something that we can support, not only me but future interns, future employees then I don’t feel that it is sustainable. The good news is we’re on track to get there. It’s a goal that feels achievable, but the days when I’m like, “I don’t pull a salary yet, it doesn’t feel as good.” I’m excited for that in 2021.

The other thing I’m super excited about is that for 2021, we have ten people prepaid to do this with us. It’s another goal that we’re looking towards that’s been derailed by COVID. We will be taking groups of Simple Switch customers or fans on trips to meet our partners around the world. I’ve been able to do this in several countries and several states. I did a three-week road trip to visit a bunch of our domestic partners. We didn’t end up getting to go to Haiti yet because there was political unrest but Guatemala and Bolivia. I’m looking forward to sharing that with our customers.

UAC 176 | Intentional Activist


I have traveled to 28 countries. I love traveling. The selfish side of me is excited for this but the big reason for doing it is to create a more personal connection. When we talked about change capitalism, one of the things I said was making it something that’s connecting people better. I think that these trips will be a way to help connect both sides of that market, and help create fanatics not only for Simple Switch but for this more meaningful and in-depth purchasing that we offer. I’m looking forward to that.

That’s great for people to know some of the reality of entrepreneurship of being three years in and not pulling a salary. That’s common. You’re not alone in that. It’s often not the financial gain that most people think especially early on. What do you believe to be true that you wish everyone else believed?

That we have the power to change the world.

What can you not imagine living without?

Pizza. It’s not profound but that’s what came to mind first. I love pizza. It’s a big part of my personality.

What question do you ask yourself the most?

“What’s next?” I say that because it’s true that’s the thing that I asked myself the most. It’s also something I’m training myself to ask myself less to be a little bit more present and not focused on what’s next.

If you could study one other person for an entire year, who would it be and why?

Nelson Mandela. I love him. He’s an incredible leader. I think South African history is interesting and he is wrapped up in that.

What book or books have had the biggest impact on you?

The first thing that comes to mind is The Power of Moments. It is by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It talks a lot about how we can create amazing, magical feeling moments for people both in business and personal relationships. I think that’s important. It’s amazing.

UAC 176 | Intentional Activist


They are prolific and profound. Their book, Switch: How to Make Change, is good. They have a handful that I’ve always heard recommended too.

I pulled their book off my shelf and they’ve got a bunch here on the back but it says Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact is the tagline. That’s my personality to want to have that. I can look back on those moments that have had an extraordinary impact in my life and they systemize how to create those for people, which is lovely.

The final question that we ask every guest that comes on the show is if you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say and why? This would be a short reminder they get from you on their phones every morning.

You can do it and don’t do it alone.

Rachel, this has been such a fun time knowing from you and your experiences. It has been helpful. Where can people find out more from you, Simple Switch and get involved?

The big landing place for you to find us is That’s the website. You can also google Simple Switch and you’ll get there. If you are looking for me, you can follow @RachelFromSimpleSwitch on Instagram. If you’re looking for the company on Instagram, it’s @Simple.Switch. Feel free to find me on LinkedIn and send a hello. I can also offer a discount on Simple Switch if you’re interested in that. Let’s do code, UpAndComers, and we’ll do 20% off people’s first purchase. If you’re hearing all of this, you’re excited, want a little treat, you made it all the way through the interview, congratulations.

Sometimes they can be lengthy but worth it. Rachel, thank you. This has been wonderful. I can’t wait for people to visit your store. For the readers, we hope you have an up-and-coming week because we are out.

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About Rachel Kois

UAC 176 | Intentional Activist

Rachel Kois is the CEO & Founder of, an online marketplace for ethical and impactful shopping. (Think “like Amazon” except every one of the 3,000+ products has a positive social or environmental impact.) They aim to shift some of the TRILLIONS spent online this year to everyday products and gifts that support orphan care, plant trees, combat climate change, and more. Rachel believes deeply in the power of entrepreneurship to solve some of our worlds most serious problems.

When she isn’t working to harness the power of capitalism for positive impact, Rachel loves rock climbing, drinking craft beer, and taking care of her vegetable garden and 5 back yard chickens. Her first ever entrepreneurial venture was a knitting business, and she’s traveled to 28 countries. She’s a stubborn idealist committed to authenticity and making a difference.

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UAC 175 | Hav A Sole


It is not very difficult to empathize with deprivation if you had been on the same boat before. As a child, Hav A Sole Founder, Rikki Mendias spent over five years in a shelter. His mother struggled to make ends meet and couldn’t even afford to buy him a pair of much needed shoes. This early deprivation caused Rikki to develop an obsession for shoes and he started building a substantial sneaker collection. One night, Rikki realized that he had more shoes than he needed and decided to give away some of them – a pivotal moment that started a movement that has been going strong through the years. From that moment, Hav A Sole has since given thousands of pairs of shoes to those in need. Looking back, the woman who gave Rikki his first pair of Vans at the shelter would be proud at the person he has become. Listen to this inspiring story on this episode with your host, Thane Marcus Ringler.

Listen to the podcast here:

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Rikki Mendias: Hav A Sole: Purpose-Projects For Good, Overcoming Self-Limiting Beliefs, Holding The Faith In Dark Times, And Caring For Others One Pair Of Sneakers At A Time

This is a show all about learning how to live a good life, which we believe takes living with intention in the tension. It’s a show that unpacks stories from others on the journey of becoming that. We’re on that journey our entire lives as we are lifelong learners. Thank you for being a fellow up and comer on the journey. One of the important parts of being an up and comer is that you can’t do it on your own. None of us can. Thank you for being a part of this community and joining us on this amazing dance called life. We’re glad you’re here. If you want to learn more about the show, you can always go to where all of our info lives. If you want to send us an email, We always love hearing from you.

If you wanted to help out our show, we would desperately invite you to do that. This holiday season is a great way to give back. There are three simple ways. The first is simply leaving us a rating and review on iTunes or Apple Podcasts. Wherever you read, subscribing to the show is a great way to make sure that you get all the episodes downloaded and that helps our show be seen by more people with the algorithms.

The second great way is by simply sharing this episode or one that you enjoyed with a few people in your community. You can take a screenshot and tag us on the socials @TheUpAndComersShow. We’d love to hear you shout us out there if that’s what’s best. Finally, if you want to support us financially, you can go to Patreon where we do have monthly donation options, and that’s a great way to help us cover the bills of running this show. Any of those three ways would be such a gift to us. Thank you in advance to those of you who take a few minutes out of your day to do that.

I’m excited to share this interview with you. It is an interview with Rikki Mendias. As a Founder, he has been the driving force behind Hav A Sole, and has been involved in every aspect of his development. He is responsible for product collection, domestic distribution, national travel, organizing events, and developing strategic partnerships within the community. As a young boy, he spent over five years in a shelter. He knows what it feels like to go without his mother who is struggling to make ends meet, couldn’t afford to buy him a pair of much-needed shoes.

One day, a former resident spoke at the shelter and offered to buy him two pairs of new Vans. He never forgot that woman’s kindness or the confidence that came from having a fresh pair of sneakers to wear to school. However, due to his early deprivation, he later started collecting sneakers in every style, color, and brand imaginable. His sneaker obsession continued until his early 30s when he was a fashion photographer and found his life felt meaningless to him. One night, Rikki realizing he had more shoes than he need, decided to give away some of his collection. The next day, he loaded up the back of his car with shoes and drove the streets of Los Angeles until he found someone who could benefit from a quality pair of shoes.

He asked the recipient if he could take before and after photographs, which he posted on social media. Friends all over the country were inspired and offered to send their extra shoes to him as well. Thus, Hav A Sole was born. In ten years, they’ve given out over 25,000 pairs of shoes to shelters at-risk youth and those in need. If you were to ask Rikki what he has learned from Hav A Sole, he will tell you, “I get more from giving a pair of shoes than I ever did from owning hundreds.” This was an amazing time with him.

Rikki and I got connected through Good City Mentors and Brian Larrabee who’s been on the show and several others from that program in Los Angeles. I knew from the start that Rikki is a genuine heartfelt guy. You’re going to read that in our conversation. He is as authentic and real as they come. He is an open-hearted caring man who’s doing a lot to impact others through simple ways as giving people shoes that need them. Hav A Sole has been around for a bit now. They’ve had some great growth, but they can always use more support. Go to to check out more of their work, mission and find ways that you can support them. It’s a worthy cause. I’d love for you to get behind what Rikki and them are doing and the impact they’re making.

In this conversation, you’re going to find a lot of topics, including how Rikki has been using code for good, starting new projects, overcoming self-limiting beliefs. His unconventional career paths, refocusing on service, how passion is different than the purpose which is a good section, holding faith in dark times, healing, family history, developing empathy, running a nonprofit, and more. It’s chock-full of great stuff. I know you’re going to enjoy it. I’ll let you sit back, relax, and enjoy this interview with Rikki Mendias.

Rikki Mendias, welcome to the show.

Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure and it’s been a while. How are you doing?

[bctt tweet=”You are your worst critic.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

I’m doing well. With Good City Mentors, that’s where we first got connected and got to be involved with the awesome kids there at that program. I miss being in person. I’ve been grateful for COVID in the sense that I can now be with Good City Mentors while I’m in Denver. I moved, but it’s not the same as being there with them.

I do miss it as well. Brian has put together such an amazing program that impacts the youth and we were fortunate enough to be involved with it. I do look forward to getting back with Good City.

That’s a good place to start with COVID. What effects has COVID had on you and your work? What would you say about the season in 2020? What has it taught you or how has it changed you or what impact has it had on you as a person?

COVID has been devastating to many people across the world. We came to a complete stop. It has been ruining people’s bank accounts, lives, and it’s tough. We felt that it was a call to action. We didn’t want it to slow us down. We took action right away. We were going to make an impact some way or another. We made a decision to launch a program through Hav A Sole called Stay Home & Stay Active, where we challenged our local youth partners, The Watts Rams and the Watt Skills Academy. We challenged their kids to work out and pick up a book. What this consisted of was they logged in to their workout program via social media.

They tagged us so that we can then retag and keep track of what they were doing, and then pick up new reading material. This was done by the honor system though because I don’t have the time to do a book report. We launched it. When they finished the program, we delivered a pair of sneakers right to their doorstep. Dash and I drove around all of LA for four Fridays in a row, gave out about 75 pairs and we were keeping them active and their minds stimulated with the reading material.

The simplistic nature in that is it doesn’t have to be crazy. It’s simple but impactful because it’s actionable. You said, you viewed COVID as a call to action and you wanted to do something with it. What has led to that disposition? That’s not a natural or maybe normal disposition for most people to have a pandemic going on and say, “I’m going to take action. I’m not going to sit back and endure. I’m going to try and bring something out of this.” Where do you see that coming from for you?

The will to connect with people. COVID was going to cause massive shutdowns and we weren’t going to be able to connect with the people the way that we’re used to because, in Hav A Sole, we provide this retail experience and the most important thing about this organization is that we get that one-on-one connection. It’s similar to Good City Mentors and how they provide their service. It’s the need to connect with a human being. We didn’t want to let up. It was a need to connect. Even though we were doing it 6-feet apart with our gloves and with our mask on, at least we were able to drop off those shoes after the workout was done. It’s tough to pinpoint where to find that need, but we were missing people. As everybody else’s dealing with this, it’s been tough.

Would you say that there have been lasting changes from COVID that you project into the future with Hav A Sole? Do you see it reinforcing the core of that human-to-human contact?

Things have changed. We’re not going to be hugging our friends and loved ones as much as we love to. I’m going to let it play out and see where we are in 2021. We’ll make decisions there. What I look forward to getting back, for the most part, is being able to hug each other and have that one-on-one connection with people.

I heard you talk about the power of a meaningful hug with someone and what that conveys, especially to people that maybe have been deprived of something as simple as that in their life, what do you see is the impact that a hug can bring? Do you have any of those hugs that have been most meaningful or lasting moments?

The first one wasn’t even my hug. It was me witnessing one of my good friends hug another, and the woman that she hugged said that she hadn’t been hugged in years. This is somebody living on the streets and having a difficult time. We’re based in LA. We do a lot of our work in Skid Row. Due to COVID, we’ve had to slow those efforts down. We’ve been focused on more youth and trying to stay safe. That hug, I remember the emotion she had on her face, tears came down her face and it was amazing for me to even witness that. A hug that I can remember giving was, we launched a new program also in COVID called Hav A Sole For Success, which is a mentorship development/paid internship program for kids.

UAC 175 | Hav A Sole


What they get to do with this program is they get to learn how to run a nonprofit. They get paid to do it, but then also we had amazing speakers. One of them owns their own marketing agency, NBA owner, business owner, and Harvard graduate. We brought in speakers to teach them and give them different perspectives on life. Our kids went through the program. On the last day, I gave one of them a hug and he was like, “This feels like a goodbye hug.” I said, “No. We’re just getting started.” He was like, “Can I have another one?” I was like, “I’m proud of you.” I gave him another hug. He was like, “I’ve never had a I’m proud of you hug before.” To think about that is both sad and inspirational for me. The sad part of it is no one has ever told this young man that they’re proud of him. The other side of it is, “I am proud of you.”

It’s funny that we forget how powerful these things are that are accessible and attainable by every single person. There’s not a single person that can’t give someone a hug. The caveat is COVID. Outside of that, we always have the ability to give someone something as simple as that. You don’t know the impact that something that simple can bring. If you go back to the origin of, let’s start with Hav A Sole For Success, because this is something that would be interesting to dive into. In this program, there has to be an idea and then there has to come to the execution to see it through. You strike me as someone who is willing to act even without a clear understanding of all the steps ahead. What was the origin of that program specifically, and how did you go through the inevitable obstacles that come with starting even a program like that within your pre-existing business or company?

Hav A Sole For Success was originally inspired by Good City Mentors, volunteering with Brian, Dash, and I fell in love with the young men in our group over at Bernstein High. As we consistently got to know them, you want to be there for them and get to learn their life stories. They get to learn about us. We realize that we’re not that much different. I remember one of the kids having a tough time with gangs and hustling. I remember him saying something like afterschool, he had to do some initiation where he had to rob somebody. Personally, with the relationship I was building with him, I didn’t want him to go out there and rob people.

I told him this, “What are you going to rob the person for to get the money? If it’s about the money, I have an opportunity for you. Come work at Hav A Sole headquarters and I’ll pay you $50 an hour. I can max you out at two hours. I’ll give you $100 to come work. The flip side of that is you can’t go out there and join a gang and beat anybody up or rob anybody. Stick to the book and we can make this work.” He came in and worked for us for two hours and cut them a check. That was the start to it.

Without even knowing that I wanted to do a full program, this was something I wanted to do for him. High school people talk, a couple of other kids came up to me. It was like, “I’d like to work for Hav A Sole. I might have some opportunities.” I was like, “What if they have to submit a resume to Hav A Sole, go through an interview process, dress up, and learn about this?” The idea started to form. I started to put it all together. I was sitting in the Bernstein office, getting ready to work with some of the kids that we’ve been working with.

The name came, Hav A Sole For Success. It’s a simple play off of our already established nonprofit. I’m a visual person so that I could see what this could do for people. Originally, similar to what Good City is doing, we drop into a school, bring in 30 kids, run them through the program, and then we hire five of them for the paid internship. COVID was closing down schools all over America. I was like, “How are we going to do this?” That’s when we handpicked five students and brought them into the program.

It was like, “How are we going to get the money to operate?” I put together a budget and proposal for one of our biggest supporters. I said, “I need your help with this.” He was like, “I’m in.” He cut the check and we were able to run the pilot program in July 2020. Through COVID, we gave five employment opportunities. We kept it safe and socially distanced. It was a learning space and it was amazing. You’ve got to go out and do it.

Me and Dash were joking around, I’ll call him Dr. Dash and me Professor Rikki because we had the opportunity to teach these five kids. I didn’t graduate from high school and never went to college. For me to come in here and have some good things for these kids to learn, it meant a lot. In 2021, I want to go out there and get my GED. That’d be twenty years after I was supposed to graduate. It’s my twenty-year anniversary. I’m going to celebrate that by getting my GED. A lot is going on and we’re trying to do the best we can.

Why go back and get your GED? What does that mean to you?

If I can be completely honest, it doesn’t mean anything to me. It means more about the credibility and the story of it all. For me to step into somebody in high school and say, “You need to graduate.” They could easily point the finger at me and say, “You didn’t.” That’s true. I believe that you don’t need to be a college education or a high school diploma to make it, but if you do look at me, it took me 15 to 20 years to get where I am. I do truly believe that at least a high school education will get you closer to your purpose sooner. A college education simply for the experience of leaving town and being able to meet new people and see new places. That’s important as well. Dealing with each individual, you figure out where they are. School isn’t for everybody. I understand that. I can relate to that. I try to give them both perspectives.

[bctt tweet=”Service gives us the experience of human connection that we all live for.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

If you look at the pilot program of Hav A Sole For Success, in the lessons learned, what particularly worked well and what maybe didn’t work well?

I would start with what didn’t work that well is the engagement through Zoom. Having an MBA on a Zoom call and being able to engage the monitor. That’s tough, even for me. We had to remind our youth that, “You’ve got to put your game face on, be engaged, ask questions, think about questions.” That was one of the toughest parts. We were able to bring in one speaker safely, and we talked about financial literacy with him. Ed Barnett owns four Buffalo Wild Wings here, and he’s also a money manager for professional athletes. He came in and taught them all about assets versus liabilities, credit versus debit.

The main thing I remember from what he talked about was, “What does it cost to be you?” That was a good question for our eighteen-year-olds to break down. They’re all getting ready to get to work and jump into the workforce. Having an understanding of, what it costs to be you? It was a great question I thought that had been proposed to them. We broke it down, “What car do you want? Do you want that Honda Civic or Ford Mustang?” One of our kids wanted a Rolls-Royce. “That’s going to be $1,800 a month.” On the low end. That’s way more than that.

The kid that wanted that car ended up being in debt. We explained that, and it was amazing too. Dash and I are learning too. We get to sit here, see and learn from these amazing people. Those are some of the great things that happen. Give and take a little bit. Zoom and virtual learning are not easy. Some of my good takeaways were the impact that these people had on them and being able to provide an opportunity during the summertime where they would have to stay home all day, every day. That was special for us. One of our kids, through our resume workshop, built his resume and submitted it, and got an interview.

It’s his first interview ever. He sat down here and I was listening. He had the interview and seven hours later, he was offered the job. He’s got his first-ever job at Nike The Grove. That was huge for not only him but us too. It lets me know that we’re heading in the right direction with this program. I have to say that you can’t just go to a company like Nike with a relationship. I can’t go to somebody and say, “Get this guy a job.” It’s impossible. He has to go out there and get it. He did the work and made it happen. We were excited about that for him.

With not graduating from high school and being on the journey that you’ve been on, how hard was it to believe in yourself and your own abilities in starting something even as bold as Hav A Sole without having maybe the credibility that others would give you in having a diploma or degree or whatever it may be? What was that inner journey like for you? How was it finding your own self-worth and value even if it wasn’t handed to you by others as much?

Out of high school, going straight to work, it was embarrassing. It was always something that I held over myself, even though I wouldn’t talk about it much, but I felt like the dumbest person in the room. If you ever felt like that, you continually beat yourself up and go hard on yourself where people have said, “You’re your own worst critic.” That was true for a long time for me. I can remember not being fulfilled with working at Toys “R” Us and at a pet store. Finally, landing a job at Costco. That goes for Costco. I finally landed a cool job, thanks to my mom who has been an amazing part of this whole journey.

She got me a contact and got me a commercial audition. I ended up booking this diet Mountain Dew commercial, which got me to SAG eligible. I went from making minimum wage to $10,000 for one commercial. I was like, “This is insane.” In that same moment, she got me in a different contact to a production manager, Stacy Manzanet who I’ll never forget. She got me a PA job. I was a production assistant on commercials. I fell into commercial production. With that, I felt like, “This is something I could see myself doing.” Parallel to that was my passion for taking pictures. I always had a camera with me, whether it was like a little Canon ELPH point-and-shoot or cell phone, I was always taking pictures of friends wherever we were. It was something I love to do.

Capturing that one moment was special to me. I was working as a production assistant on a music video and I was taking pictures of the talent. This is way before social media. That was okay. You could take pictures on set. There was no non-disclosure agreement that was needed. Showing the director these photos and showing the talent in the photos, they were like, “They had an onset photographer.” A couple of them saying, “These are better than his pictures.” The director said to me, “You should get paid for this.” I was like, “I can do that?” It sparked an idea.

With that, I bought another camera and started practicing. Being on set, I’m learning now from the gaffers and the grips. I’m learning how to manipulate my life and build a fashion portfolio because I loved shooting people and landscapes. Those were things that I love shooting. I fell in love with photography. With that, at least I had something to talk about. I started to feel less dumb in the room. I had something that was becoming mine. I got good at photography and I felt like I wanted the world to see my pictures. Many years go by, I’ve had many ups and downs throughout my life where I’ve been forced to bounce back. I wasn’t happy.

This is in my early 30s in 2014. I have 150 pairs of sneakers in my collection. I have a decent camera collection and I’m not getting paid for my work. I’m still a production assistant. I’ve been a production assistant for seven years. For me, after seven years of doing the same job with not moving up and moving into a different department, I started to become sad with my work and then not being paid as a photographer. I had a chip on my shoulder because I was good at taking pictures and nobody took me seriously enough to pay me and then social media hit.

UAC 175 | Hav A Sole


In 2010, Instagram was a big thing and everybody became a photographer, model, comedian, and actor. They were using this as a tool. I’m stepping back and watching and like, “They’re getting paid for their work now.” I’m like, “I’m still not. I put in all this work and the chip on my shoulder was from not graduating high school. I’m feeling like a dumb person here, but then I’m becoming good at something here. That was mine and for me only.” I fell into sadness. One night I couldn’t sleep and I decided to give away my sneaker collection and take a picture of the person receiving my sneakers until they tell the story of the sneaker. That’s what happened. That was the idea before Hav A Sole was born. Give away my sneaker collection, and take a picture of the person receiving it.

It’s amazing how having a chip on our shoulder and having this feeling of beating yourself up or being your worst critic manifests itself without us even realizing it. That’s true for all of us in different ways. In starting a nonprofit or being an entrepreneur or doing whatever work we’re trying to do, even podcasting, it takes a while before you believe in yourself, stop beating yourself up or stop feeling like a poser and step into the worth and value that we have for who we are as human beings. It’s a long, hard journey. It doesn’t happen overnight.

That’s why I want to give it back. I want to give everything that I’ve learned throughout my journey back to the young people that, “It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to do this. It’s okay to do that. That’s not okay. Stay away from that.” Be there for them. Now, I think being a young person with all the social media and if a rumor went around in high school in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, only a few people hear about it. Let a rumor go around now in one click of the button, the entire school knows about you and that can change everything about your day, your character, and move throughout the school year with you. That’s why we want to give it back and make sure that we’re giving the youth what we’ve been through.

When you look at your childhood or the generation since and what the youth are facing, what do you think is needed on a core level of maybe it’s a skillset or competencies, or even mindsets for our youth? One of the biggest factors they are facing is social media, technology, interconnectedness, the whole host of challenges and opportunities that that can bring. If you look at what lies beneath that, or what are the things that this generation coming up with those readily available, what is it that they need more maybe than past generations?

The first thing that is coming to my mind is service. If you take a young person that is passionate about uplifting young women and she wants to encourage them, she needs to volunteer with an organization that she can relate to. Whether it’s foster youth or whatever the case may be, you can insert anything that you’re passionate about. Be there for people. More service will then give you the experience that you need, like the experience of that human connection that we all need and that we all live for. What’s coming to mind is connecting some more people because, with social media, it’s easy to feel disconnected. Even though you have the world at your fingertips that we get lost. I can easily spend 1 or 2 hours on Instagram or YouTube or whatever it might be. I’m like, “Where did the time go?” Being present, having the tools to be present and serve other people. That hug and that hello to somebody.

It is simple now. Instead of having our heads down at our phones, it’s looking up and saying hello. That’s a huge step. It’s interesting about service like you said, that’s maybe what the phones and social media, it’s self-serving. It’s scratching our own itch. It’s about us. More ways than anyone else. I think that service is the outward action that changes that virtual reality, that so much of the time can be spent on nowadays. What’s cool about that is it’s not just the younger generation, it’s all of us. Everyone needs that that’s facing it now. Everyone is challenged by it in different ways, but how can we all get better at seeing people better and then serving people better? That’s a daily challenge. I’m challenged by that, in hearing that too.

It’s tough. We’ve all been guilty. We all have that smartphone that takes away our day.

You’ve got a wide range of jobs that you’ve done. With those different roles and places you’ve been in, what have they given or taught you? Why have those been valuable for you?

The most valuable job would have to be a production assistant job. They say that a PA stands for Pay Attention. You have to be on it in everything. If there’s some trash here on set, you’ve got to get rid of it. If there’s a director’s chair that needs to be moved, you have to move it. The relationships that came with that freelance job was relationships that will last a lifetime. The other jobs, I can’t speak to that much, being a cashier didn’t scratch my itch and didn’t fulfill me. There’s something about the 9:00 to 5:00 work that I couldn’t get a hold of personally.

I respect people that do have the courage to take that job on because nowadays if you have a 9:00 to 5:00, you’re looked down on. You have that gritty job that no one wants and you don’t get enough love for it. I didn’t have the courage to stay in that kind of work. I didn’t have the ethic. I wanted to do something more creative. I wanted to do something with photos when I found that. It was something about it. I don’t think we give the 9:00 to 5:00 enough props in thinking about it now. With relationships, for sure.

[bctt tweet=”Passion is different from purpose. Passion is all about you. Purpose is all about others.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

You made a good point in the sense that there is no right or wrong answer for that. Is it self-employed or traditional employment? Is it 9:00 to 5:00 or is work when you get your job done? It’s going to be different depending on the people, but you’re right. It’s not as sexy on the 9:00 to 5:00. How it sounds, looks or appears to others. It takes as much courage to face that well as it does to face your journey well or someone else’s journey of entrepreneurship or of going down a path of something that they believe in. That’s a great reminder for all of us. When you think about going back to that moment where you realize that you’ve been in this position for seven years, you feel like you’ve been spinning your wheels and you’re feeling sad. There isn’t as much purpose in your life. How does that moment turn into the last seven years?

Time is flying. You’re like, “I can’t believe that’s fourteen years of life right there.” Life is moving fast. Ups and downs. I know from experience that passion is different than purpose. I was passionate about photography, but it was never my purpose. I finally found my purpose with Hav A Sole. Being there for other people, giving comfort and love through something that I love so much, which are sneakers. A small percentage of people find what they were made to do on this planet. I’m grateful for that. Being able to go through my journey and find something that I was supposed to do. Seven years led to just not loving the sneaker culture, to making a courageous choice to give away my sneaker collection and then put the right pieces into place. It was as simple as driving around, hitting the streets, trying to give out my sneakers, and meet new people that were living on the streets at the time. I can’t believe many years are gone.

I want to circle back to what you said and follow up with that a little bit. Few people find what they were made to do. Why do you think that is? I would largely agree with you. It’s the exception to the most and what stands in the way, or what keeps people from finding what they were made to do?

I would say that a cell phone is a big distraction that keeps us held down. I think fear, uncertainty, ourselves, when we keep ourselves down, being your own worst critic. There are many factors that can allow us to not find that purpose. There’s so much that can go into it.

For you, out of all the things that as humans we face in that, what would you say was the last straw to fall, or which one was the final hurdle that you had to overcome in order to finally move on it?

There could be many last straws. It all added up to like hey bell. You get fed up with everything. A lot of great things have come from my low points and my sadness. Keeping that faith, understanding that, knowing that there’s sunshine after the storm, and holding the faith during the dark points has been something I’ve been used to doing. I’ve been through a lot in my life. I’m able to keep that faith. The last straw though, it all added up in my relationships and work. The last straw could have been not getting paid for my photography. It could have been beating myself up for not graduating and it was something else. I knew that I accumulated so much stuff and I knew the answer wasn’t there. That’s one thing I did know. The answer doesn’t lie in the material items that I’m buying. Let me give them away.

I feel like that’s true that we figure out what not to do before we figure out what to do. We learn what isn’t the path before we learn what is the path. I know you’ve mentioned before that you’ve had a collection of over 150 sneakers, cameras and it got to a point where that wasn’t it. That was no longer the path or that wasn’t what brought you what you had hoped it would. You’ve gone from that point of deciding, “I’m going to do something about this.” Seven years later, here we are talking. You’ve been able to give 50,000 pairs of shoes away. You’re able to have a wide-ranging impact that even puts you on the floor at NBA games and being able to talk with Ellen. What would you say has been the most surreal experience for you up to this point?

That’s all crazy to even hear you say the journey. We’ve given out 25,000 pairs, but 50,000 pairs soon. We’re going to keep doing this work. I look forward to the next 25,000.

That is a little insane amount of shoes.

Every time we give away a pair of sneakers, the joy that it brings me is like a direct deposit of $1 million directly into my soul. It feeds me. I know that it has value and impact. One pair does so much for the person. If they get the chance to hear the story of what is behind the entire organization, they love it and are inspired by it. One of my favorite moments? There are many. We’ve been to NBA games. We partner with NBA teams and made it to Ellen. What was interesting about that was we’ve reached out to Ellen for three years and the timing wasn’t right. They found us. It was cool to see that if you’re working hard at something that you truly believe in, the right pieces are going to fall into place and you’ll get where you need to get.

I don’t have one favorite moment or anything that stands out. I know it’s huge, but even more so the first pair of shoes that we tried to give away. This is the next day or two after the idea. I remember going to my friend’s job, we were editing some online material for a friend. When I pulled up to the job, he called me, “I’m going to be fifteen minutes late.” I got shoes in my car and there’s this one guy that sleeps outside of his job. I was like, “I’m going to give it a shot.” I walk up to him and he wasn’t sleeping. You can’t sleep too well on the streets. You’ve got to keep one eye open. He was like, “What’s up?” I was like, “What’s your name?” He’s like, “My name is Phoenix. Come sit down.” He smells like urine. It smells bad. I was like, “This is what I signed up for.”

UAC 175 | Hav A Sole


I sat down and I was like, “What shoe size are you?” He was like, “Thirteen.” I‘m thinking to myself, “I’m a 10.5. I don’t have a size, but I do have that hoodie and a few pairs of socks.” I asked him, “Do you want the hoodie and socks?” He was like, “I love that.” I grabbed it, sat back down, and we started a conversation. The first thing he said to me was, “Don’t trust that girl.” I was like, “What does that mean?” I didn’t know exactly what that meant. I brushed it off. The second thing he says was, “How are things with you and your father?” I was like, “That was interesting.”

A couple of weeks before I met Phoenix, my dad nearly passed away from an overdose. He had a work injury, popping pain medication, and moved on to this stuff that he was used to when we were growing up. He almost died. I told Phoenix all those and he’s like, “That’s tough. The next question was, what do you do for a living?” We’ve been talking about, I was a photographer that was bitter. I was like, “I’m a photographer.”

He asked me if I’ve ever been published. I said no. He looks up at the sky and says, “Don’t worry. I’m going to tell him exactly what he needs to hear.” He focused his eyes back on me and he says, “You need to put your stuff on the internet. Let everybody see it. It’s too late for me. This change in my cup, that’s all I have.” A tea spilled the cup and all his change rolled out on the ground and it was like $4 in quarters. He was like, “This is all I have left and nobody will ever give me a chance because of the way I live, because of my situation.” I was like, “This is crazy.”

My friend pulls up and then we get to work. I was like, “I’ve got to get this guy, Phoenix, a pair of thirteens.” That’s when I took to social media again. I said, “I need size thirteen.” My friend, Pierre, donated ten pairs. I went back to see Phoenix the next week. He was there and I said, “What’s up, Phoenix?” He looked up at me. He was like, “Who are you?” I was like, “What do you mean? I gave you the hoodie that you’re wearing.” He was like, “I don’t remember. All I saw was some shadowy figure with a big smile giving me this hoodie.” We talked about it a little more and he told me that he was blacked out drunk during our whole conversation.

When he was talking about the girl who he was right about, that didn’t work out, also, my dad and my career as a photographer. He was talking to the universe or God or whatever you want to believe he was talking to, but he was not in his right mind. It hit everything that was bothering me at that time. That’s like a key moment. I realized that right off the jump, “There was something special about this guy or this moment. If it wasn’t for that, we probably wouldn’t have made it to our first year. It would have been a little passion project, not a purpose project.”

Can you share a little bit more about that distinction? When you see others or even yourself start things, what are the signs that it’s a passion project versus a purpose project? What would you say are things that can help us to see the distinction or difference between those two? I feel like a lot of times they seem close and similar.

I don’t think it’s something that you can describe. It’s more about feeling internally like, “How does this make you feel? How does it feel to play basketball for a living? Am I passionate about it or is it my purpose? Am I born to play basketball?” Now, talking about it with you, it has to do with the impact on others. What is going to be the impact on your fellow human, brother, sister, family, best friend, and the feeling that impact makes on you? Pay attention to the impact it has on others. We’re breaking this down. The purpose is going to be for others. Passion is going to be about you.

Who is benefited from it in a sense? That’s a helpful rubric for it. This is such a large topic and something that many people are more aware of them before now, and still seems to not have viable answers or solutions. This is the experience of homelessness, of not having a place to call home, and trying to survive in the midst of that. I’d love to know from you about your experience with this personally, and what you’ve seen in serving and working with these people who find themselves out of home?

That’s a tough one because I think about what Hav A Sole does for the people who are living on the streets. I know for sure that this organization won’t change the numbers here in LA. Dash and I set out on a job to impact one person at a time. Lift them up, their spirits, and bring a little bit of comfort through tennis shoes. We have partnered with some amazing organizations like the Covenant House, a safe place for youth that are making huge dents in those numbers and bringing people off the streets. We love to support them. We work with other organizations that feed the homeless and we provide sneakers. We realized that alone, we’re not going to make any change, but together we can start to put our heads together and focus on getting them off the streets if we can, if they want to, there’s so much that goes into it.

From what you’ve learned from your experience, what are the most common misperceptions for people who haven’t had relationships or interacted with people that are on the streets? What would you say are the most common misperceptions that most people have?

[bctt tweet=”Faith is knowing that everything is going to be okay.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

I would say maybe that everyone’s a drug addict or mentally ill. This is based on the circumstance. I’ve come across somebody who had their work truck stolen and then they couldn’t get to the construction site the next week, rent caught up to them, and then you’re fired and evicted. What control do you have over that? If you don’t have something saved up or are not prepared for it, that’s tough. Most people in LA are one paycheck away, one injury away from not being able to work. Being more empathetic towards others is where we should all start and understand that they had a journey. If we can help, then sure let’s help. If we can’t, that’s fine too.

In some background research, I ask people to describe the guest in a few words. One of the descriptions was open-hearted. I’d love to hear if it does, how that ties into living with empathy, or how we develop empathy as humans?

That could be described in many different ways. What I try to practice is having an open-heart with everybody, with relationships, with family and friends. What I’ve learned that from experiences, it’s much easier at times for me to be more empathetic to somebody or a complete stranger to somebody I just met. That comfort level of friends, relationships and all that if you’re comfortable around them, how do you keep that heart open and realize that they might be going through something and still being open-hearted and empathetic for them as well? This is a non-stop journey. Every day I’m learning something new. Every day I get to talk to different people, amazing people. It keeps growing. Back to purpose and employment, I wasn’t growing as a cashier. That’s where I felt like my growth was stunted and with photography, I felt like I reached my cap, but now, something different every day.

What you brought up is interesting. It’s not thought about that empathy can often be easier with strangers than friends or family sometimes because we’re familiar with those that are closest to us, it can be hard to have that open heart. One of the things I heard also about what has been impactful from your life is changing the legacy of your family lineage and speaking to this process of empathy and being open-hearted, especially those closest to us. Could you share a little bit about what this process of healing has been like and how you’ve contributed to helping change the lineage or legacy that your family is leaving?

I know who said that for sure. That’s one of my favorite people on the planet. That was my mom. She supports Hav A Sole every day. She’s fundraising for us and that’s a proud mama right there for sure. I don’t think about it too much. I feel like I’m living in my purpose. It’s something special. Thinking back, drugs and alcohol were always a huge thing for my family. I can remember being nine years old at a family function and there’s beer, alcohol, and hard alcohol everywhere. There were some drugs too, but they would hide that from us.

Growing up, it didn’t ring any alarms because as long as we were all together and loving each other, that’s what was most important to me as a nine-year-old. Them drinking a can of beer to feel a certain way didn’t affect me as long as we were all together. That’s what was most important to me. When she says, “I am helping change that family lineage.” It means a lot to me. I haven’t had a drink since 2006 and I haven’t smoked weed since tenth grade. You’ve got to do it. I didn’t set out to do it. These are personal choices that I had made, like not drinking. That’s crazy to think about.

If we go back to 9 and 10 years old, what was the impact of not having your mom around for a year? What imprint did that make as a young boy? I know that experience is different for everyone in different stages of life, but for you as figuring out what life is all about and having family being important of being there when one is no longer there for a year and your mom, what was an imprint that leaves on you?

She went to jail for a year. I was 9.5. That was tough. I felt like the family exploded into different pieces and it brought a lot of anger. She spent that year in prison, and then when she got out, we moved into a low-income shelter in Santa Monica. If you know about Santa Monica, the kids are well off there. It was tough for me to handle. As a result, I would act out, I would not do good in school. I would fight and do all that stuff. I ended up moving with my grandmother right before my mom got out. I felt abandoned. It was hard.

Would you say that is the earliest place of holding the faith in the low points that have led to that practice throughout your life since?

The day I started Hav A Sole. It took a long time. Up and down, faith tested and no trust. If you’re talking about the first time I had to start to practice my faith, that’s almost twenty years.

When you look at all those dark moments that are dispersed throughout the journey since then in those low moments, how have those valleys shaped and formed the man that you are now? What did they contributed to who you are as a person?

UAC 175 | Hav A Sole

Hav A Sole: If you work hard at something that you truly believe in, the right pieces will eventually fall into place and get you where you need to be.


That has given me more understanding and empathy that we’ve talked about, compassion for others, being able to walk in somebody’s shoes and know that they might have walked in mind. It gives me hope and faith. Understanding that journey wasn’t for nothing.

What does faith mean to you?

It could be praying to God, you can have a religious faith, also have the faith in the understanding that everything is going to be all right and work right on time in exactly how it should be. It’s not easy because sometimes you have to let things go. My best definition would be understanding and knowing that everything is going to be okay.

As you have now a different role in some senses of being an uncle, what is your focus in that role in life, and what are the joys that has brought?

Some of the greatest joys in being an uncle and having the kids around is making my nephews, brother, family, and my girlfriend proud. It’s important for me to keep it up. I know that I’m headed where I’m supposed to. I feel that if I can help them get to where they want to be with either my actions or with my journey, I’m all for that.

In regards to Hav A Sole, running a nonprofit has a lot of elements to it. It’s more complicated than meets the eye always. One of the compliments I’ve heard about you in that role is that you do a good job of keeping the focus on the people, despite as a nonprofit. One of the biggest pressures is running the business of the nonprofit, of raising funds, staying afloat, and making it operate well. I’d love to know how you stay focused on the mission, despite needing more funds or a fundraiser or to run the business. What is that dance like? That’s inevitably a challenge.

I never expected it to be where it is now. I’m 50/50 with it. I knew it could be huge, but at the same time, I never expected the business side to be as much as it was. The accounting, fundraising, and all of that. To be completely honest, fundraising has been the biggest challenge. I manage the bank accounts. I see all the money that comes in and goes out. It’s tough because to be completely transparent, we got about four months of operating cash. We have to focus on bringing in more funds so that we can get back to work and keep up the work. We’ve been managing okay.

This is where faith comes into play. I’ve seen it time and time again. When we first started, I was funding everything myself. We were introduced to a friend and we had $163 in the bank account. He cut a check for $100,000 and it kept us afloat. We were off and running after that. Everything that we do, I know that will be okay whether it’s fundraising, mentoring or giving out shoes. I know at the end of the day that the shoes that we have here at the office are going to make their way one time or another to somebody’s feet.

That is a good feeling to know that and to see the tangible benefit regardless of the financial impact. It’s going to be hot. Even speaking logistically, what is the process like for you guys in getting shoes from the giver to the receiver? What is the process for Hav A Sole for logistics? I know it’s a little different than COVID, but typically speaking?

This little company Nike joined in September of 2014. One of their assistant managers at one of the local stores said, “We can support you when you get your 501(c)(3) paperwork. From there, we had our paperwork already in process and it didn’t take long. One store became ten over the years. Nike plays a huge role in getting us the inventory that is not just your average sneaker. They’re giving us Jordans, Kobe Bryant sneakers, LeBrons, and all these sneakers that are going to impact a young person’s life for the better. Not only that, we’ve had the Lakers, Dodgers, Clippers, and Pacers. The Pacers have been one of our biggest supporters all the way in Indiana.

[bctt tweet=”Get up and get active!” username=”upandcomersshow”]

On top of all these amazing brands, they support our mission. We wouldn’t be anything without the private donations. The people, your everyday sneaker lover that they believe in what we do, know that one extra pair that they’re not using anymore, they can ship to us. We’ll put that on somebody that needs it. The support comes from everywhere from all walks of life. People that can’t afford a pair. We’ve given people a pair and they’ve had a pair that was half size too small. They’ve reached into their closet or to their bag. We’ve seen a lot of things. At the end of the day, it’s that one-on-one. You know what it is with Good City. You can see the impact and that’s what we love.

As you look to the future, as you project out into the next years ahead, what do you see as the current vision for Hav A Sole? What awaits you guys in the future?

We have Hav A Sole Creative which we’ll be partnering with different brands and bringing the unique Hav A Sole experience to either brands, companies, and athletes. I want to continue to work with our NBA partners and see what we can do to provide support for the people that they support. Hav A Sole For Success is the number one thing that I feel that in the next many years is going to be that engine, that gets young people to work, but not only that, it gets some real-life experiences. They get to see what it is to run a nonprofit and to be of service. That’s going to be the main project in my eyes. That they can change the world is going to be Hav A Sole For Success.

What would be Hav A Sole For Success 2.0? What is the second iteration going to look like? Is it going to look like the same thing or do you have changes in mind for this next round?

In the first round, the pilot was four weeks. We want to extend that to six weeks. The workdays were for four hours. We want to extend that to six hours. Now, we are extending the program as a whole, which is our next step. Everything else, we were happy with, with the speakers that we brought in, the youth, and the data that we collected after they left the program. I’m sure it will evolve, but we need a few more rounds to see where it goes.

You said one of the things that is important for Hav A Sole is that it’s a retail experience. I’d love to hear why that’s important and what that produces in the experience of Hav A Sole.

One of the most important things with Hav A Sole is the retail experience where it’s as simple as providing somebody with a choice of sneakers. We set up little pop-up shops. We brought in different partners that aligned with our mission and somebody who is either fighting homelessness or on the streets. If we pull up to a shelter like the Covenant House, we’re able to do our build-out, display, it will be a sneaker wall.

They’ll have the opportunity to come up, get fitted, make sure that they get the right color, style, and size. Our volunteers, including Dash and myself, were on our knees and tying the shoes for the people. That’s an experience they don’t get to have too often or something as simple as a choice. I’m blessed enough to say I don’t have to worry about what pair of shoes I’m going to put on. I can throw on any pair, it can match my sweatshirt and I’m out the door. A lot of people out there are like, “I’ve got to wear these sandals. These work shoes are also my basketball shoes and workout shoes.” We take choice for granted.

Rikki, this has been awesome. I’ve got a handful of one-off questions before we go. Maybe we do round two in the future because this has been fun.

We’ll need to Hav A Sole For Success.

If you could teach a class for a semester, what would you teach and why?

I feel like we did, and it was called Hav A Sole For Success. Professor Rikki enjoyed the event production side of things. Their main project in the program was to produce a Hav A Sole event for one of our partners. I didn’t mention that. I love event management and seeing the process of A to Z, what needs to be done, how much money do you need to get there? I would teach a class on nonprofit events. It was funny because we were supposed to go to the Covenant House campus, but COVID shut us down. We ended up doing a virtual. We call it the Hav A Sole Home Shopping Network. We were able to broadcast via Twitch and have the Covenant House youth in Hollywood tune in and make their selections via that live broadcast. That was a lot of fun.

UAC 175 | Hav A Sole

Hav A Sole: One of the most important things with Hav A Sole is the retail experience where it’s as simple as providing somebody with a choice of sneakers.


You are talking about innovation, that’s awesome. Less, more, none. What do you want to do less often, more often, and not at all?

I would like to play Call of Duty less. I would like to play more basketball because as you know, most of the basketball rims in LA have been completely locked down. None of? I truly don’t know. I’m a happy guy now. I’m doing exactly what I want and fortunate to be in this position, to even have a job during COVID.

What new habit or belief has most positively impacted you in your life?

The relationship with my girlfriend. I was single for ten years because I didn’t want to commit. I’m not saying that the relationship is easy, but I think it’s worth it. The work that has to go in with it. That new habit of being in a relationship after being single for so long has been productive and good for me.

What book or books have had the biggest impact on you as a person?

I hate reading, so I listened to books and I don’t listen to them often. I’m a virtual learner and learned by doing, but I would go with The Alchemist. I love listening to it. I even replay it time and time. It puts me to sleep and right before I doze off, I will hear something new or something in that story. A friend of mine recommended Think Like a Monk. I’m listening to that which I find interesting. We are learning about breath and that’s the only thing that you have throughout your whole life. They’re talking about your breath.

The final question that we ask everyone that comes on the show is if you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what short message would you send and why?

Dear up and comer, I hope that your week has started off well. I would like to remind you to get up and get active. At the same time, stay safe and stay inspired.

Rikki, thank you for coming, sharing your story, your heart, and your work. Where’s a good place for people to find out more about Hav A Sole or connect with you?

Thank you for having me. This has been a great pleasure. You’ve asked questions to help me learn and grow as a man even in this short time we’ve been talking. Check out the website,

Thank you for the word, Rikki. Until next time, Rikki. This has been awesome. For the readers, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.

Important Links:

About Rikki Mendias

UAC 175 | Hav A SoleAs Founder, Rikki has been the driving force behind Hav A Sole and has been involved in every aspect of its development. He is responsible for product collection, domestic distribution, national travel, organizing events and developing strategic partnerships within the community.

As a young boy, Rikki, spent over five years in a shelter so he knows what’s it feels like to go without. His mother, who was struggling to make ends meet, couldn’t afford to buy him a pair of much-needed shoes. One day, a former resident spoke at the shelter and afterwards, offered to buy him two pairs of new Vans. Rikki never forgot that women’s kindness or the confidence that came from having a fresh pair of sneakers to wear to school. However, due to his early deprivation, Rikki later started collecting sneakers in every style, color and brand imaginable. His sneaker obsession continued until his early thirties, when he was a fashion photographer and found his life felt meaningless to him.

One night Rikki, realizing he had more shoes than he needed decided to give some of his collection away.  The next day he loaded up the back of his car with shoes and drove the streets of Los Angeles, until he found someone who could benefit from a quality pair of shoes. Afterward, he asked the recipient if he could take a before and after photograph which he posted on social media. Friends all over the country were inspired and offered to send their extra shoes to him as well. Thus, Hav A Sole was born and in ten years we have given out over ten thousand pairs of shoes to shelters, at-risk youth and to those in need.

If you were to ask Rikki today what he has learned from Hav A Sole, he will tell you, “I get more from giving a pair of shoes than I ever did from owning hundreds.”

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UAC 174 | Lessons From COVID-19


Society seems to ask too much of us that it can be quite stressful to fully embody who we want to be and feel worthy just as who we are. How do we overcome that and accept that we are worthy as ourselves? Thane Marcus Ringler lets us in on this session of couch conversations with his wife, Evan Ryan Ringler, where they talk about worthiness, lessons from COVID-19, and the coming Holiday Season. They share their experience of having tested positive for the virus and the things they learned during those span of two weeks. Looking forward, Thane and Evan then discuss the upcoming Holiday season, how it is going to be different this year, what mindset they are having for it, and their plans on how to spend it. 

Listen to the podcast here:

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174: Couch Conversations with Evan Ryan Ringler: You Are Worthy, Lessons From COVID-19, And Our Focus For The Holiday Season

This is all about learning how to live a good life. That’s about the process of becoming, which hopefully we’re in our entire lives as we continue learning until the day we die. We are all about living with intentionality. Our mantra is having intention in the tension, which means having a reason why behind what we do. That is what we are about. Thank you for being a fellow up and comer on this journey. We need each other, we can’t do it alone. Thank you for that. If you are new to the show, welcome. If you’ve been here for a bit and you want to support us, or if you’re new and you want to support us, there are a couple of easy ways.  

The first that I will switch it up on you is Patreon. If you want to help support us financially, we do have a Patreon page where you can support us through monthly donations. There are different levels, and it’s a great way to help cover the expenses, both time and money that go into making the show happen. We can’t do it on our own. We need your help in that. If you want to support us by sharing, please consider sharing this episode with a few friends, maybe someone that came to mind when you read this episode, send them a text with the link or even tag us on the socials @UpAndComersShow. That’s a great way to get the word out. Finally, the easiest way to help us is by taking 60 seconds out of your day to leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or iTunes, both works. That is such a great way for us to be found by more people. We’ve got over 100 now and would love to get to over 200, and you get to be a part of helping us do that. We need your help with that. Thank you for helping us in one of those ways, if not all of those ways. It is such a sweet gift. That is it for housekeeping.

We have a couch conversation. This is the new installment of combos with me and my lovely wife, Evan. Welcome back to the show.

Thanks for having me.

It is an honor to be sitting on the couch with you. We are sipping a Spindrift Raspberry Lime made with real fruit. Shout out to Canada Dry.

We walked through COVID. Thane at lease for sure. I did too. With that, we discovered Ginger Ale by Canada Dry, zero sugar. It is delish, so I’m drinking some of that.

We thought it would be fun to chat about a few things that we have been thinking, working and going through in life. I love the quote, “Which is most personal is most universal.” That shapes a lot of our heart in these couch conversations of sharing what we’re going through, knowing that inevitably you will probably be going through something similar. The first is a journey of creation and I’m proud of my wife for this. It’s something that began as an idea, turned into a reality, and has continued to grow, change, and iterate over the months that it has been a reality. That is this thing called Worthy. I want to give a shout out to my wife while we’re here. It’s been fun to watch you put this thing into real life. For people reading, what is Worthy and what is a bit of the origin story?

Thank you for your words, it’s kind and not necessary. Worthy started from a place of wanting to empower women, divinely or randomly. I had a bunch of women from past circles, like high school, middle school, reach out all at the same time around the start of COVID in the US. I felt there was this universal theme of settling for women, for instance, I’m in this relationship and I don’t know if it’s okay or I’ve been facing a lot of these demons, but I guess I’ll always be that way. I wanted women to know and be reminded that they are not their circumstances, or they do not have to settle for what society tells them. I’m not on social media. I was like, “What is something that would be helpful?” I was prayerful through it, I was open to getting on social media if that’s what God wanted, or that was the best way to reach people. I enjoy writing. I feel my thoughts become clear when writing, as most writers do. I landed on a weekly email that seeks to empower women. I started that in July 2020 and committed to doing that weekly through 2020.

What would you say the journey has taught you about creating things? What does it teach you about life, vulnerability and growth, even how it’s changed you? I’m curious to hear some of your reflections on that journey so far.  

Worthy showed me more about what bravery or courage looks like and a lot of that is going first and saying, “I have struggled with this.” It’s not that relatable. Some people might struggle with this. It’s been fun to incorporate other women who are part of Worthy and have a space to share their experiences on whatever topic it is. Everyone is different and universal at the same time. That’s a beautiful reminder that a struggle is a struggle, or it doesn’t even have to be a struggle, but I feel we face a lot of the same things as human beings. It’s nice to be reminded of how one we are and how personal it can be, because my experiences is this way doesn’t mean it will be your experience.

[bctt tweet=”Humor is a sweet addition to life. Not everything needs to be that serious.  ” via=”no”]

As a one on the Enneagram, I have perfectionist tendencies. My first few issues, especially I was like, “What are people going to think?” I’m fearful of judgment. I want to make sure this is how this is being read by someone else and I can’t control that. At the same time, it is helpful to try to get as clear as possible with what I’m saying and not a lot of words, which I feel is another writer’s journey of trying to convey what you mean. I feel I’ve had to let those things go and lean into, “This was my experience.” It’s something that I’ve tried to do with it is pose questions because I am by no means an expert on anything. I’m sharing my narrative and my experiences and that’s it. I would much rather hear and learn from someone else. I feel like questions are helpful and refinement. I’m also not wanting anyone to think exactly like me, that’s not the point of Worthy. I do think the same questions can be helpful for all people and it’s not to get to the same result of, “You need to think like this.” I feel questions have helped me get down to core issues or core motives. It might be helpful to other people too.

What would you say are the ways that it has changed? Has it changed or shifted much for you?  

Yes. You go through like, “Does anybody read this?” One of my teammates when I played soccer at Arkansas, she thought about things as if she was performing for an audience of one. Jesus was all about the one seeking after individuals and it was always personal. I’ve been trying to think about the one, even if this is for one person, then that’s enough. It’s been a freeing place to operate out of. I think all of us are numbers driven, especially business-minded people of, “Is this producing results? What’s my ROI?” It’s been freeing to let that go and think if I’m doing this to refine my thoughts and I hope it helps one person. Even if that person is me, that is enough letting go of ego or capital S Self or lowercase S self. Life happens. We had a couple of crazy weeks where I didn’t get to Worthy, and I was too busy for it. It wasn’t a priority those two weeks. I’ve been playing catch up, which has also in itself been a lesson in freeing of not every word needs to be perfect and to have fun with it too. Humor is a sweet addition in life and not everything needs to be that serious.

We’ve been talking about why Joe Rogan is one of the most listened to podcasters and it might’ve been another interview that we heard that was different than that, but the reality that he inserts brevity or humor into things that are hard. It opens up the space to allow more people to hear, because humor softens the blow of things. It makes it more relatable as a human. It is an important part of conveying any message.  

They were saying humor helps say things almost more clearly than if you were to say it without. To note on Joe, he’s brave in the way he speaks, because so much of it can be construed to, “Joe said this topic.” He was making a joke or knowing people were going to clip that and throw it as a news article title and get clicks. I appreciate that about Joe of the no F’s of, “I’m going to do what I’m doing and if you like it, you like it.”

We haven’t talked about any of this and part of this is me being interested. Coming into it with your expectations and as you went through it, was it more or less work than you expected and more or less rewarding than you expected?  

I would say yes. More or less work than I expected, both is what you make it. Nothing has to be that stressful. It has become less stressful in the journey is more rewarding. Sometimes I’ll write something that I’m like, “That was good,” and not hear anything. Sometimes I’ll write something, and someone will say how that impacted them and I’m like, “Really? That worked for it. That did it?” It’s humbling. The thing I’ve been learning is it’s not to replicate me. It’s not to make sure everyone thinks the way I think. I am passionate about what I think. I could totally be wrong on this, but this is what I’m thinking, from my experience with it. I talked with some other people who are in a completely different stage of life who experienced it this way. This is what I think, maybe in a month, my perspective has changed and I hope so because I hope to have learned more in a month, and that’s not true with everything. In general, it’s a sweet place to stand in. I might not know.

If there’s someone reading this that has thought about starting X, Y, or Z, it could be anything online, it could be something physical, some project that they’ve thought of or dreamed up or had in mind for a bit. Is there any advice or anything that you would share? Any words of encouragement for someone like that?  

The easy answer is, “Go for it.” Anyone can do this and that’s the truth. Take the first step, whatever that is. If it’s meeting with someone about their podcast or their newsletter. If it’s starting to write every day to refine your way of thinking or what you’re thinking or to get clear about your convictions and beliefs. It’s been as empowering to me as I hope it has been to other people. If there’s something that you’ve been led to, take a step and try not to have expectations or try to strip some of the worldly sites that are easily gripping of, “If I start a podcast, I have to have X amount of listeners a month. If I do a newsletter, I have to have these many people subscribed and these many clicks to get sponsors.” That’s way putting the chariot ahead of the horses. If it’s out of a place to help people, that shouldn’t be your markers. It’s unmeasurable as we’ve talked about it.

The resounding message I’m hearing, and I would agree with, is doing it for the one and doing it for yourself. It’s synonymous in many ways, but it’s worth it for you and it’s worth it for one, and if that’s true, then go.

UAC 174 | Lessons From COVID-19

There are weeks where I’m like, “I don’t want to do this.” It feels more “selfless” like, “I’m doing this for the one,” and it ends up after I’m done like, “That was helpful. It was centering for me.”

That’s why it’s like a practice. Motivation or inspiration comes in waves. Motivation is the underlying why behind it. If you have that in place, then you can weather the waves of inspiration.  

You’re good at that too.

It’s a practice. We are practicing it. Other things that we’ve been practicing or recovering if we transition to the topic at hand of COVID, which 2020 has been a COVID year and forever will be remembered as a COVID year. Hopefully, it’s isolated and we get to move past 2021. All two of us got COVID along with many others. We got down under with the virus, we went and got tested. I came in positive and Ev has this killer immune system. She is negative, but realistically we both had it, we’d been on the mend. I thought it might be interesting to share a little bit of our personal experience with COVID and even some more meta lessons learned from COVID.  

What part of the journey are you on and where do you think we got it?

I don’t know where we got it. We have been doing good in Denver, but we also aren’t holing up in our apartment. We’ve interacted in public settings. I’ve taken the tram and the subway into work. I’ve been in a coworking space, played some basketball, some buddies, who knows? It’s such a hard thing to know where we got it from. You were volunteering.  

We were still responsible, we’re in masks and going to grocery stores. The only gathering we’ve been at was church and no one had it there. It’s hard to know and no one who we know had it or has it. I’m thinking we got it from someone we might not know. Who knows?

There is cultural shame associated with it to where we both felt some stress or even guilt about impossibly having given it to someone else. No one knows that much about it. We’re all guessing and you can’t know right away if you have it or don’t and because at two-day limbo period of you may not have symptoms, but you may be carrying it. That produces a lot of this, “Did I get anyone else sick? What if I got someone who’s old or their systems compromised and somehow, I infected them?” There’s a lot of shame and guilt and for some there’s good reason in that. It would be horrible for us to give it to our 72-year-old neighbor who might not be able to survive that. There’s some of that that’s justified, but a lot of that too is projected onto because of what other people think of that.

There was some narrative around we weren’t responsible. Everyone thinks they’re an expert. It’s been hurtful to have people, “Do you think you got it here?” I’m like, “I’ve been navigating this just as you have. I don’t know.” There are people who have had it and have had zero symptoms. No one knows. We have had some shame and guilt, especially around potentially passing our neighbor in the hall. Did we give it to them? We’re grateful that no one we know has gotten it, but yes, we’ve had it for two weeks and a day.

Speaking of symptoms, what was it like?  

[bctt tweet=”Humor helps say things almost more clearly than if you were to say it without.” via=”no”]

Symptoms were onset on a Monday evening, and I got a bad headache. I couldn’t be around light and sound. I wanted to lay down and have an ice pack on my head. That was different for me. I don’t experience headaches, and quickly we were getting the chills, fevers and body aches. There were two intense days of fever. Yours broke quick. Mine relatively stayed mild. Your fever broke on day two and a half. From then, we got tested the Tuesday after we had symptoms come on. It felt like a cold. The last few mornings I’ve been waking up with a tight chest and headaches and the weight on the chest. It’s hard to know because as someone who experiences anxiety, then you’re like, “Something else is happening.” It is a respiratory thing. It’s a cold. Were there any symptoms that you experienced that I missed?

Having a fever for a couple of days straight, it was not fun, but when it broke, that was helpful. Chills, aches, some headaches. I lost smell for four days and that impacted taste, which was weird too. It was not fun. I hadn’t been sick in years. That was a good reminder of the blessing of good health, how much you can’t do when you don’t have it. For people who face a lot of sickness, chronic illness or pain, it’s tough. It’s a different mode of living. I got some good empathy that I hadn’t in a while, and it’s been tough coming back because we both have lower energy. We’re 90% now, but I do feel weak and low energy still trying to do work, feeling lightheaded. I’m the weakest I’ve been in a while and that stuff, it is humbling. It’s a few steps back and that’s the nature of every sickness most often. It’s good to reconnect with some of that.

What are some of the meta things you’ve learned through COVID?

I’m excited to hear from you on that because I know you got some deep dives on that with Worthy that you shared briefly with me. The thing that’s been good from getting it is that we’ve researched it more than we did before to try and get our heads around it. The more you dive into research, the more you realize there isn’t that much that’s known about it. I saw the same PiLab tweet, some studies that have been done and some Danish studies that were clearly an agenda to propagate one side of the argument that was not a well-done study. The point is because it’s new and there isn’t that much information, whatever side of the argument you want to be on this or that, this being helpful, that not being helpful, it could be mask, the tests, or the distancing.

Everyone has a different opinion. If you want to support your opinion, maybe get a study published that shows your side. The study is geared towards showing that side then you’re going to show your side, but not accomplish anything because you’re proving what you already believe to be true, which isn’t a good study anyways. The studies would say, “Here’s a theory. Does this back it up? Now, how can we find a way for this theory to be true?” What I’m learning even from having it is that we don’t know as much as we would like to know, and that’s not surprising. When you change your opinion on things, that’s a good thing because it means you’re learning. If the CDC says one thing and then a month later, they say something else, that’s good. That means they’re learning something, and same with us. It’s helped me try to infuse more compassion or understanding in conversations with people but trying to maybe point out the opposite perspective of whoever I’m talking to say, “What you’re saying may be true.”

Holding a posture that hears.

Give me some of your takeaways because these are good.  

One, our views are shaped by our experiences. I wouldn’t say fully, but I would say widely. If we have friends and people we love that think COVID is bogus and life should go on as normal, we have people that are friends and that we love that think we should be hermits until everyone is vaccinated. Our narratives and what we have walked through wildly shaped the way we see things. If you’re an eighteen-year-old freshman in college who’s healthy and all your friends are getting together for a party, you will go. I understand that.

My eighteen-year-old self would.

When you’re eighteen, your world is your world. It’s revolving around you and I get that. I was there too.

UAC 174 | Lessons From COVID-19


Even at 28, 29, sometimes that could be true.

Probably every age when you’re young and having fun. At the same time, if you’re in your 90s and you have a predisposed condition, I understand why you’re trying to take space and be careful. As someone in their twenties, I can’t imagine how it would feel to give someone COVID. A lot of the people who we’ve talked with who think life should be normal, this is a cold, most of them haven’t lost someone to COVID. Most of them have not experienced COVID themselves. It wasn’t enjoyable by any means. It wasn’t the worst thing that’s happened to us, but that was our experience. There are people who have died from it and who have been in the hospital for days.

There are people that we know that have had it that don’t think that much of it, because it wasn’t that big of a deal for them. That’s understandable too. If you go through it and you’re like, “That wasn’t much more than a cold.” It seems like a smaller deal than people are making it. It’s a wide spectrum in that.

The next one, it’s not all about you. It’s like the same and at the same time, different. I know there have been people who’ve had to move their weddings. Sometimes to me, when I’m reading that language, it’s a lot of like, “This has been such a hard year, and this has affected my dream wedding.” I hear that and I find myself frustrated because it’s a pandemic. It’s happening to the entire world. There are people without medical professionals at hand. It’s been interesting to see how, and I understand too, especially with all of us being isolated, it could feel like it’s happening to you.

Back on our story, we were in that place, that week of getting married, of being like, “This is stressful and crazy that all of our plans are being changed.” In the moment, we’re always affected in a greater degree than outside looking in.  

Those two were same-same. I have three more, everyone’s an expert, quick with the shoulds and shouldn’ts. Especially after we’ve had it, after we’ve been trying to navigate what the CDC has said, which is changing, which is good, as they said, that means they’re learning, we’re adapting. No one knows for sure. To have everyone come at you, common people of, “You should do this. You shouldn’t do this. You probably got it here.” I’m like, “You do not know as we do not know.” With that, something to encourage us, we need to have grace, we need to allow people and ourselves to change our minds, learn, grow and adapt new policies.

I wonder what it’s like because this is such a big deal. That’s one of my favorite points you shared and are going to share in that. This happens nowadays that everyone becomes an expert because of the platforms are available. We’re talking to microphones and it makes us feel like an expert. You’re on a phone, social media, posting to people. All of these things are geared towards producing this feeling of being an expert or having something to say, which isn’t necessarily the same thing, but I’m curious. Are there any practices you think that would be helpful in helping all of us not turn into an “expert” when we aren’t or shouldn’t be?

Something that’s been helpful to me is trying to lead with questions. What have you experienced that makes you want to wear masks everywhere or trying to also put things into context of, “I’m speaking with a man in his 80s, I’m speaking to a woman in her twenties.” Those are different contexts. Leading with questions like, “What has your experience been like? Have you lost anyone that has COVID? What have you read about the CDC?” It gets confusing because it does, “Tell me what your summaries of that was.” Leading with questions is helpful because I feel like we’re quick to say the shoulds of, “You should be doing this, and you should have been more careful.” It’s like, “I still have to go to the grocery store and get food. I’ve got to do that.”

This is something my grandpa taught me, but asking, “May I make a suggestion?” As we’ve navigated 2020, asking for permission to be wrong, it’s one of our pastors coined saying, “This is what I think right now I could be wrong.” It’s a beautiful place, a place that I’ve felt with you, Thane. When you’ve approached me that way, I feel like it leads from humility and that creates a totally different floor for people to come onto instead of, you should and you shouldn’t, because people aren’t going to come onto the fourth. That’s the stage that set.

On the flip side, there’s a lot of understandable critic and critique on everybody being an expert, which then can lead to the negative other side of the coin of not feeling confident to say your thoughts or opinions on anything. To have an honest discourse, we have to be free to express ourselves and what we do think or see, or how we view something without fear of judgment, even though knowing that as humans, we judge other humans. The danger comes when we start making people bigger or smaller than they should be, which is the same size as us or anyone else, because we’re all human.

[bctt tweet=”Rules are great until they inconvenience you.” via=”no”]

It’s cool to also approach things with this idea that everybody thinks they’re an expert and we have the power to give them or not give them that by who we pay attention to, who we put our likes or our votes to, who we read, watch or listen to the most. The people that are more often assumed to be experts, how we approach them with intellectual honesty and critique and be like, “This is another person’s perspective.” Especially reading a book, the thing that’s changed my view the most is by writing a book, I’ve been like, “This book is someone’s opinions that they cared enough about to put into a book format and go through the work of publishing it.” I get to see it as that. That has been some interesting ways to approach it.

I also think I’m an expert and I don’t know if we would say it that explicitly. We’re all operating. One of my dearest friends who is hilarious to me told me like, “Were you saying that because you think you’re right?” I was like, “Yes. I think I’m right. That’s why I’m sharing it this way.” That’s true for all of us. We’re sharing what we think we know to be true at the time. I am sharing that because I think I’m right. To put it plainly as I’m an expert too, that helps not be so righteous and looking down the nose of, “If only those people thought this way.” I’m right there too. I’m navigating the best way I think I should and the way that I think is respectful to others and that differs it’s subjective. People pick and choose to follow the rules if it suits them. I feel we’re quick to shake the finger of, “You should quarantine for 38 days.” That same person is going out and about as they please. We all do that, and we all make exceptions.

Rules are great until they inconvenience you and we felt that too. When we got COVID, we had to cancel a lot of plans and quarantine in our little apartment. That wasn’t fun. It was fun being with you but it’s not fun both of us being sick and stuck indoors in some nice days. We went on some walks with mask and it was okay. We had some amazing and generous neighbors and friends, get us groceries, buy us some food. It’s cool, the power of community in that but it was an inconvenience in the sense that we couldn’t do what we want to do. It’s harder to follow the rules when it’s an inconvenience to you. It was a lot easier to say something than do it. That’s for sure.

As a side note, even wanting to get outside and go for a walk and get some fresh air, I felt like we were even restricted by our illness with that. We would get tired within five minutes. My last thing that I feel like I’ve learned is we have made evil of the other. I feel COVID has made that clear to me or has taught me that I feel 2020 in general has taught me that if you are not for me, you are against me, and my ways are good, your ways are bad. Even equating political parties with good and bad. I don’t agree and I don’t see how we can come to a place of unity when it’s a constant this or that.

That’s also a result of leadership. When you have leadership that propagates that on both sides, then naturally the trickle-down effect will reach all of us in this country and in the world. The polarity has grown because of leadership has that’s what sells, that’s what markets well, that’s what gets attention or votes. It’s not a surprise, yet we are also playing a different role that can help produce the change that we want to see and it starts with you and me and individuals. It’s sad that we see it more readily present than ever before.  

One of the parts in Worthy is stay the course. It’s helpful. What’s helping you be your best self each day. How do we think objectively? In researching or trying to find some things to consider, I came across this article that said, “Thinking objectively is ruining your life.” That goes against what I’m saying, but not what after you read it. The author says, “I’m a liberal and oftentimes my side of the aisle breaks my heart where it’s supposed to be the ones who are tolerant and understanding of others, yet I often see how closed-minded we are. We want conservatives to have compassion for immigrants, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and those of different faiths. Despite all this, we constantly neglect the fact that our fellow Americans deserve that same tolerance.”

He goes on to say our experiences are a lot of what shape our subjective thinking and it’s interesting how we throw objective, that’s objectively false and no, that opinion is different than yours. It reminded me, Nadia Bolz-Weber. She’s a pastor and a Lutheran minister. I forget her title in Denver. She was talking about on the same accord of how she grew up in a fundamentalist home, “conservative.” In her twenties, she went to “the other side” held more liberal views, more “progressive way” of thinking. She was like, “I’m doing the exact same thing I was doing when I was a ‘fundamentalist Christian’ of dualistic thinking of I’m right, they’re wrong. I wasn’t awake. I had swung to the other side doing the same things.” If we’re honest, we do get in those places of right or wrong, this or that, instead of holding space for all. At the same time, I do think there is evil. I do think there’s good and bad. I don’t think it’s as objective as we like to make it.

I heard on podcasts when we were driving to Kansas, I think he was a pastor in New York, Rich Villodas was talking about how, even within the Christian Church, depending on the circle or sphere you’re in, you emphasize one part of the triad. He said more on the conservative side, it’s about having the right truth or doctrine. On the more charismatic sides, having the right experiences and the more liberal or progressive side, it’s having the right action, taking the right actions for justice or mercy. It was like, “Each one of those is needed. We need each one of those. We need to search for the right truth and having the right experiences.” When you have searched for the right actions, take those. We can’t have one without the other two. There’s a triad of emphasis that’s needed, whether that’s within Christianity or outside of faith world and everyday life of what we emphasize.  

We have made evil the other. I don’t think that’s what we’re meaning. I hope it’s not. I don’t think that’s what Jesus came to do. Human beings are capable of awful, horrible things. When we start to make our convictions, our identity, as soon as anyone threatens that identity, that’s a personal attack. I don’t think it’s always that personal. It’s that person’s life experiences that have shaped the way they’re thinking. How do you expect that person to change if we don’t create a loving space for that to happen? If we’re shaking our finger, “You don’t understand. It’s hard for me to understand people like this.” That sounds like a new issue.

To round out our time on the couch, I thought it would be fun and shout out to Mama Ringler for the idea. We’re asking them over lunch at Ken’s, “What would be helpful to chat about?” She came up with a great idea of what is a focus or mindset to carry forward for this holiday season in 2020, Christmas and time with family. There’s a wide array of experiences with that. Some people not being able to be with family, some are and everything in between. It would be fun to hear from you and I’ll share a little bit about what we think would be helpful for us. What would you say is a focus or mindset that you’ve been carrying? What do you think is going to be helpful for you?  

UAC 174 | Lessons From COVID-19


Something that’s been front of mind for me is this idea of being humble and gentle. Remembering that 2020 has been a hard year for everyone, and that looks different for all of us. It’s fair to say hard, nonetheless. Being humble to know that and gentle in that space and that could look like a lot of different things. It could be holding space. How can I be the most loving to this person? Can I listen and try to hear what they’re saying? We won’t be able to see our grandparents this Thanksgiving or Christmas. How do we make them seen, known and loved even though we can’t be together? Those are things I’ve thought through of this idea of humility and gentleness. This has been a hard year for everyone. How can we be gentle with each other?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be fully present and to be lighthearted or pursuing joy and simple, fun things with each other. We’re going to work on a puzzle here, playing some cards, and appreciating the simple joys of being present with each other is such a great way to bring some comfort, hospitality, or maybe even the right spirit for this season. The other thing that’s definitely a component of 2020 is being understanding and gentle with others who haven’t been able to do that. There are going to be people that aren’t able to be with family or loved ones. I know a guy in the Good Metro that I do on Fridays. He’s not going to be able to go home to Canada for the first time in his whole life where he’s from. He can’t do it. Trying to communicate in an understanding way, being conscious that people are going to experience different things, and it’s going to be harder and easier for some, it’s an interesting time. That focus of mindset of projecting less, don’t project on the others your own experience, but be grateful for your experience.

Thanks for this. I have enjoyed chatting.

It’s been fun over some Ginger Ale.

I love you.

I love you most much.

Following up with one last thing to note. If you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once a month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.

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UAC 173 | Leaders Of No Reputation


The greatest leaders in the world have no reputation. Like Jesus, they don’t care for accolades or recognition. They simply follow God’s voice in serving Him and His people to the best of their abilities. But those leaders need to come from somewhere. They need to be lovingly cultivated to find their true identity under God’s guidance. This is where Norris Williams comes in, a cherry farmer who prunes not only fruit-bearing trees, but also emerging servant-leaders in the Kingdom of God. As a coach, Norris inspires and equips ordinary men and women to know their true identity and use it to bring about positive transformation in their respective areas of leadership. Joining Thane Marcus Ringler in this conversation, he talks about making the right things easy, living in the Kingdom, being a man of vision, what healthy masculinity looks like, identity versus roles, developing leaders of no reputation, tribalism and so much more.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”173: Norris Williams: Making The Right Things Easy: A Cherry Farmer Who Leads From True Identity In Various Roles And Cultivates Leaders Of No Reputation”]

Norris Williams: Making The Right Things Easy: A Cherry Farmer Who Leads From True Identity In Various Roles And Cultivates Leaders Of No Reputation

This show is all about the process of becoming and learning how to live a good life. We believe that takes living with intentionality in the intention that life brings are many tensions we live in daily. The best way to do that is by infusing a reason why into what we do living on purpose on a mission. Thanks for being a part of this community and being a fellow up and comer on the journey. We’re glad you’re here. If you wanted to help us out, there are a few easy ways. The first is leaving a rating and review on iTunes. That’s such a great way to help us out.

We’ve got over 100 now. We’re trying to get over 200 and you get to be a part of helping us do that. The second is by sharing this episode or one that you enjoyed with a few friends, people in your life that you thought of that would also appreciate this episode. Shoot them a text with the link, or you can tag us on the socials, @UpAndComersShow. We would love to have a shout-out from you there. Finally, if you want to support us financially, we are on Patreon and that’s a great way. If you want to start making some monthly donations that’ll help us pay for the expenses of the show, it is not for free. It does not happen without paying money for us. We’d love your support that way to keep this show going. If you have a business and want to partner with us, we are looking for partners. Reach out to and that’s where you can always find us for questions, comments, or other thoughts you may have. We love hearing from you.

This episode is an interview with Norris Williams. Before we get to the interview, who is Norris? Norris Williams coaches leaders and builds teams across the globe. Norris inspires and equips ordinary men and women to know their true identity. He catalyzes changes by creating environments where people and teams listen and learn together, cultivating a culture of constant improvement by pruning creativity and innovation. The results of knowing one’s true identity are bringing positive transformation to teams, government, businesses, schools, neighborhoods, homes, communities and cities.

Norris’ coaching has included successful business owners, addicts, government officials, professional athletes, juvenile delinquents, farmers, families and more. Norris coaches people across the US, Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. Norris Williams has been married to his girlfriend, Laurie since 1980 and together they have four married children and nine grandchildren. Norris has known his identity since 1973. He has brought his identity to his roles as husband, father, grandfather, international leadership trainer, mentor, coach, student, professional football player, the quarter horse rancher, trainer, farrier, director of a 400-acre ranch for juvenile delinquent boys, wilderness survival instructor, and cherry farmer.

Norris is an amazing man and I was excited to have this time with him. We talk about so much including making the right things easy, leadership, hanging out with the trinity, living in the kingdom, his experience at the boy’s ranch, being a man of vision, what healthy masculinity looks like, marriage, identity versus roles. Developing leaders of no reputation, tribalism, and much more. He’s an amazing man. I was privileged to have this time with him. As I know, you’ll be honored to get to learn from him here. He has lived an amazing life. You can find out more about Norris by visiting Identity Exchange is where he does some coaching. If you want to reach out to him there, there’s a contact that we can get you in touch with his email. If you send us an email, we’ll be happy to connect you guys. Without further ado, please enjoy this awesome interview with Norris Williams.

Are you a person who knows they need more discipline in their life but don’t know what to do or how to get there? I am with you. Discipline feels like this mystical thing that successful people or people we look up to have but we never know how to acquire it on our own for ourselves. I’m here to tell you that discipline isn’t unattainable, and is available to anyone who’s willing to put in the work. Ultimately, I’m here to tell you that disciple is worth it. If you believe me, I encourage you to consider going on a journey with me, the journey of developing discipline. Through Thane Marcus Academy, I’m offering an eight-week course that will instill in you the discipline you desire. What does this produce? A life of never settling for less than you’re capable of. To help you take the first step, I am offering you a special discount of 20% off by using the code, Upandcomer at checkout. Head over to to begin your journey of developing discipline.

Norris Williams, welcome to the show.

Thank you, Thane. It’s truly my pleasure and honor to be here.

I’ve been giddily excited about this conversation. My wife can attest to that. I want to start with one of your skillsets and my dad would appreciate it immensely. From talking to some people, I’ve heard that this guy can hunt. He can hit a moving target from a long way away. Do you have a story of this skillset that you have acquired?

I do like to hunt. We like to eat fresh organic meat in our house. Every year, I hunt deer and elk. The last few years have been successful and I’ve got some nice big animals. The shot was on the run on an elk at 342 yards. That was God’s gift. It was fun.

The other thing I’ve heard you’re quite an aficionado at is riding horses. I heard stories of some epic adventures of riding horses through the wilderness. What is it like to take a horse on an adventure through the wilderness? That’s something that I’ve never experienced, but it seems like a gratifying thing.

When you have the opportunity to have horses that you can trust and that can take you through dicey places and you have to put your trust in them, it’s quite a bond. Taking a pack string of mules and horses through the mountains, it’s an adventure that not many people have and that I can say has brought me such great joy, memories, adventures and hardships. It’s a lot of work, but it is pure joy to be out there and have a relationship with the animals that you trust and they trust you.

UAC 173 | Leaders Of No Reputation

Leaders Of No Reputation: Leadership has nothing to do with positions. It has everything to do with being able to hear God’s voice.


In developing that relationship with an animal like that, what is that process like? When did you first start riding horses?

We had a quarter horse ranch. I had horses when I was younger, the family did. We had a ranch where we raised quarter horses for cutting. We had stallions, mares, and babies. The thing that I enjoyed the most was when we would purchase a horse, say from Texas that had been out on the range for two years, wild and you’d get them. They had not even had a saddle, but not much less a halter on. You had to take this wild animal and get them to be able to be somebody or an animal you could trust. My favorite part of that process was taking the wildness and making that wild animal different. We did it through kindness, making the right things easy, and doing the right things was the easy way for the horse at all times. Working with the young wild stock was always my favorite part.

It’s cool to know that story because of this idea of doing it with kindness and love, there are always two paths in trying to train an animal. Sometimes it’s probably by fear and punishment a lot of times versus kindness and love. Maybe that’s still involved. Are there two different paths in training animals? Is it the same process just different mechanisms for it?

There are two different processes for sure. There are those that favor more intimidation and fear rather than making the right things easy. Even with that, there are some horses that it seems like every day they were trying to figure out ways to hurt you and you had to be wary of them. It didn’t make them not useful, just who they were. Other horses were as steady and as predictable as they can. You use the same methods on all of them, but they came out different because each horse was different. You had to treat each horse and mule a little bit differently. The foundation of kindness and making the right things easy was always there. Sometimes, even though you had the same strategy, you had to use different tactics for each horse.

One of the ways that you’re known as now is a cherry farmer. There’s a lot in between horses and cherry farming that we’re going to get to, but I’m curious about some of the lessons you’ve learned in horses like making the right things easy. That’s such a great lesson even for us in our lives, but I’m sure that there is an endless array of examples of lessons that come from farming cherries. From what I’ve heard, you grow extraordinary cherries. This is apparently from feedback from local growers. This isn’t Joe Schmoe saying, “It’s good cherries.” These are people that know the business. I’m curious what goes into growing extraordinary cherries?

The lessons are endless growing extraordinary cherries. Here are a few things. To grow good cherries, you don’t add things to the tree. You only take things away. Every year the tree grows suckers and suckers are branches that produce nice leaves, but no fruit. They suck the energy away from the tree, from the fruit. You have to be ruthless in pruning away the suckers that don’t bear fruit. Otherwise, your tree will be full of beautiful leaves and not as much fruit or smaller fruit. You’ve got to be taking things away from the tree that is keeping it from producing fruit. You do that every year.

It’s a yearly process. As it says in John 15, “Every branch in me that bears fruit is prune so that it bears more fruit.” Even if you have a branch that’s growing, you have to stop the growth out because the branch will want to get longer. You have to prune the end of it so that it pushes all the energy back into the branch so that it can bear fruit. You don’t want it to become this long branch. Every fruit-bearing branch also has to be pruned back so that all the energy goes into producing the fruit. There’s protecting the fruit from predators, from the disease.

Growing fruit is a lot like discipleship. You got to work with each individual tree. Some trees need a complete restart. Let’s say an elk or a deer has come in and mangled all the branches, chewed on them and something happens from the saliva of a deer that destroys the life of the branch and things will deteriorate. There has been damage to the branches from an animal that got in there one night. You then look at it and you say, “I can’t salvage any of this up above,” and you take your loppers and you lop off right below all the damage. It’s a restart and new branches will grow. The trees not dead because it’s still connected to the root, but you got to restart the tree.

I’m curious, in the beginning, what led to you have an interest in farming cherries?

I didn’t have an interest in it, to be honest with you. We were moving here to Cashmere where we live and this property was available and it had a cherry farm on it. My degree is in Agricultural Business, we’d raised horses, I’d raised hay and other crops, but I’d never been an orchardist. When we got here, I looked at it and said, “Lord, what am I going to do with this? I didn’t know how to be an orchardist, how to be a cherry farmer.” I got mentoring from my good friend Ruben Garcia. He is the father of a friend of my son’s who came and I said, “Ruben, I don’t know anything about pruning. I know I need to do it.”

At the time, we had 35 huge cherry trees were on the property. I’ve got my loppers, I’m taking a branch off here and there and he comes up to me and he says, “Give me those loppers.” He takes them from me and he starts whacking branch after branch. I said, “Ruben, you’re killing the tree.” He looked at me and he says, “You have to hurt the trees. If you don’t hurt the trees, no fruits.” I sat there and went, “He’s killing the tree.” He even took a chainsaw out and started cutting off these huge branches. I’m going, “He’s the expert, but this tree is going to die.” That’s what I thought. The next year that next spring, they were filled with fruit.

That principle, “You have to hurt the trees or there will be no fruit,” became something that God started to use in my own life. That became the lessons from our orchard that God taught us. We came into it, my God’s designed not by my great desire to be a cherry farmer. I saw that this was also a way that it’s how my kids went to college because we were missionaries. We didn’t have any money to send them. We have four kids. We started a cherry business and we sold cherries in Wyoming. My kid’s summer job was driving all the way to Wyoming 4 and 5 times a summer and selling 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of fruit a week. That’s how they paid for college was selling fruit.

How many years has it been now with the farm?

[bctt tweet=”Make the right things easy.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

Since 1997.

What’s interesting is a lot of times, we think about something like farming that, it feels like it removes us from some of the other things that are happening in life. A lot of times, it connects us more to what life is about and grounds us. Also, teaches us lessons that can’t be learned through a textbook because it’s tangible, visceral and it’s physical things that we learn with our hands. How would you say the last twenty-plus years of having this farm grown you or changed you as a man? 

Passages like John 15 have come alive for us. Understanding when Jesus gave those analogies of the fruit, branches, and pruning that this was a language that those people understood. They knew what farming and vineyard were because they lived in that world that was their world. It gave them an example that they understood. As you say, most of us are removed from that world. It gave us an up-close look at what Jesus meant and what does it look like to be connected to the mind, to be connected so that you bear fruit. All those lessons became life for us. This is what life looks like in the Kingdom of God.

It’s the orchardist. The father pruning us so that we bear fruit. Each tree is different. You come up to each tree and you look at it and say, “What branches do I get to take off of this tree?” It’s this intimate process because when you are the one pruning the tree, you know the tree and you’re shaping how this tree is going to look. That relationship you have become more real. When I think of the relationship the father has with me, he’s doing these things so that I’ll bear more fruit because he loves me. He loves the trees. I love my trees. I was doing training in Beirut once with these Syrian refugees. One of them had been a farmer back in Syria and had to flee all of that. He was now in Beirut and he had a drop the mic moment in the middle of this training. He stands up and we became good friends as a result of knowing his history.

He said, “You can have everything needed to grow fruit. You can have good soil, water, the right climate, but if you’re not connected to the vine, you’re dead and the branches that are not connected are dead. No matter if you have everything.” It was one of those moments for all the people in the room to say, “We may have lost everything, but we’re still connected to the vine. We’re still alive. We can still bear fruit because things don’t look good for us now and the tree is all mangled.” I described that it got ravaged. There’s still life there because you’re connected to the vine. It’s when you’re disconnected from the vine. That’s when you die.

You mentioned a little piece of the greater puzzle that is, Norris Williams. You mentioned training in Beirut and in addition to being a cherry farmer, the main focus of your work in your life over the past countless years. It has been connected to your identity, but also connected to mission work around the world, training, leading, and helping develop what is referred to as becoming a leader of no reputation. I’m curious what does becoming a leader of a known reputation mean to you?

That began when I was a boy. Both of my parents are gone. They’re with the Lord now. They were instrumental early on in my upbringing too. Some of the questions you said, what was growing up like? My earliest memory is my mom. She couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. She had no pitch, but she knew Jesus. She had this undaunting ability to have joy, no matter what happened. I remember her singing the voice of joy into my life, the voice of God so that I could hear his voice. Early on, I began to hear the voice of God in my life because my mom sang that into me.

She was that person and my grandmother who suffered in their life and yet lived lives of joy and strength without complaint. Her mother died when she was nine. Her father left her. She never saw him for 25 years. She was raised by a grandmother, hardship, suffering, and yet to meet my mom, you met a person to feel the joy of the Lord. Living with my father, who was one of my greatest disciples, but he was a mean guy. Sometimes he was an angry guy and could be verbally abusive.

My mom was undaunted in her joy and her love. That was that example of what it means to have joy and to be able to lead with joy because she led without a position and leadership. She had influence without a title. Watching my grandfather, my dad’s dad, every day he’d come home and he was an ordinary man who had grease under his fingernails every day. He would use lava soap to clean himself and I would watch him come home and he would get his hands all clean as he could. You were not allowed to go into his room until he was done praying, but the door would be open.

I would peek in there and here was my grandfather on his knees and he would stay on his knees for half an hour after he got home from work. I remember looking through the door at that an ordinary guy. A guy nobody knows his name, but he led and influenced. Part of that was in my observation of what real leadership looks like. These people had no title or position and yet their influence was great. I remember early on, I thought, “I’m going to be a mountain man. When I grew up, I’m going to live in the woods and eat my own food.” I would read everything about what living in the mountains was all about. My dad told me, “That’s not what God has for you. God put a leadership gift on you so you’re going to have to be around people.” I was a bit disappointed in that because I had those early dreams to be out in the wilderness for me.

He began to disciple me on what leadership was like. How do you lead as a kingdom leader? What is leadership in the kingdom of God look like? It has nothing to do with position or title. It has everything to do with being able to hear God’s voice. Those were the early days of that. Fast forward to going into places like the Middle East. God put that on my heart early on in my life because my father told me, “God is not the respect or persons like we were. Every man or woman on this planet has a reason to be here in God’s kingdom. It has nothing to do with where they were born or who their parents were. God chose all that for them. He put them there in that place for such a time as this.”

From early on, I always had this belief that every person had a reason to be here. I began to discover, I want to know why I am here, that there were these good works that God prepared beforehand that Norris should walk in those. That’s what I wanted to do with my life. I want to walk in those things that God had prepared for me. God has prepared those same good works for every man, woman, and child on the planet. It seemed like arrogance to me to go in and train people on leadership that works in our culture or think that I’m going to go in and because people take my class, they’re now trained as leaders. I don’t believe leaders are developed in the classroom.

I believe leaders are developed out in the trenches of real-life and you have to be in real life. The leadership principles have to make sense in real life or it’s a course or a class. When you begin to study what Jesus said about leadership, it’s a bit counterintuitive to some of the ways that we teach leadership. I did a study of the gospels many years ago and I looked for two things who are the leaders Jesus chose, and who were the leaders that opposed him, and who did I look most like? It was sobering to see that oftentimes I looked more like the leaders that opposed Jesus than those he chose. The leaders that Jesus was choosing if I had been asked, I wouldn’t have chosen those leaders.

UAC 173 | Leaders Of No Reputation

Leaders Of No Reputation: If God’s telling you to do it, that’s what you have to do, even if you are all alone.

I wouldn’t have chosen those that he seemed to raise up to leadership. The disciples were abandoned of no reputation except bad reputations. I don’t know. None of the people that you would have thought would have made his team made the cut. I would have been like Jesus. Like the disciples when they come up and say, “Jesus, what are you talking to this woman for?” Not only is she a woman, but she’s also a Samaritan. Surely, she can’t be the one to read Samaria. She’s married five times living with somebody. She doesn’t make any of our leadership teams based upon her history or who would have thought that a naked, crazy guy would be the one to reach all of Decapolis. I wouldn’t have.

I don’t want to hang around naked, crazy people. I avoid that. I don’t think that’s not the one that’s going to be here to reach this place, but Jesus sees things differently. He hears from the father differently. It says of him, he was a man of no reputation, not a bad reputation. He didn’t care about that the same way we care about it. When we’re training leaders, what are we training them into to lead like Christ, to where they’re not concerned about reputation, title, or position, but they know how to hear God’s voice as Jesus did? Be able to respond and move into places that they have been prepared since the foundations of the world to move into and bring the Kingdom of God to bear into these places that you and I can’t go.

They don’t need Western leadership principles to move into this neighborhood in Beirut or this village in Nigeria. They need the people that are on the ground there. I felt it was arrogant for me to come into these places and think I was going to teach them about leadership when the leaders are already there. They’re already on the ground. The men and women are there. They know what to do and they will feign appreciation for what you’re doing because that’s their culture. They want to make you feel good, special and we can come home and write a great letter. I trained 300 leaders but what does it do? I wanted to get on the ground with people and say, “What do you need here? Let’s spend time with the father together and ask him what he wants to do.”

If we can do that, if we can get people to learn how to hear from God themselves and know who they are, what their identity is, and have God tell them that, then we got a shot. We got a shot at God doing something there and it’s not dependent upon Norris or my organization. We create dependency on God alone and developing those leaders. The greatest leaders that I know in the mission world, nobody knows their name. There are people that are doing stuff and they don’t get to speak at missionary conferences. They’re not writing the missionary books. They’re leading hundreds of thousands and millions of people to the faith. Nobody knows who they are, their people of no reputation in our world. They’re my heroes.

To re-iterate what you shared about the questions that you asked, who were the leaders that Jesus chose and who were the leaders that Jesus opposed and which do I look most alike?

The leaders that oppose Jesus, not that Jesus opposed.

That’s a great question for self-evaluation. It’s counterintuitive to culture and how we may be instinctually operated. It takes a reframing of our perspective in that. I thought that was a helpful tool to do that. I want to know a little bit more about becoming a leader of no reputation and developing servant leadership, which is what others have also spoken as one of your sweet spots in that. What does that process look like for you in the younger, earlier years? I know football played a role in your life in the early years, and you competed even professionally for a bit and then moved past that into different arenas. It’s a meandering path for all of us in many ways. I’m curious what the different phases or stages of your own development in becoming a leader of no reputation look like throughout those different roles or places that you lived and occupied.

When you live in a performance-based world, which that’s what sports are, that being an excellent golfer and wanting to even advance your career in whatever sport you’re in, it’s a performance-based criterion. This was the early part of high school, even junior high, high school, that whole transition period. Even back then, I was having lots of success. I did well in sports, particularly football and wrestling. When you are living in this performance world and people are congratulating you and wanting to get close to you because of something that you could do, I had a hard time with that.

People weren’t wanting to get to know me for me. They were wanting to get to know me because of something that I could do. The relationships were hollow for me because they didn’t know me. They knew what I could do. That pushed me to want a deeper relationship. It was during that time in my life, 13, 14, 15 years old, that the number one core value that guides my life came into existence. When I discovered how much the Trinity loved me and wanted to be with me, it changed my life. It was the reason that I started following Jesus was that I could be with them and I didn’t have to be good at anything. I didn’t have to be smart, be handsome, and have a great week in sports.

They loved me and they wanted to be with me. That is the core value that I claimed to the most. I get to hang out with the Trinity and I don’t have to be good at anything. I was up hunting here and it was early in the morning. It was 4:30. I crawled into this deep hole in the dark, the wind was blowing, the stars and the moon were out. I was sitting there and I said to the Trinity, “What do you guys like to think about? What do you guys talk about and enjoy every day?”

About that time, these bull elk started bugling. If you have never heard it, it’s one of the most amazing sounds in the woods. They bugle in that darkness and they were all around me bugling. It was this magnificent sound. The father said to me, “We like that. We made that and we enjoy it every day that they’re doing that.” The sun started to come up and the moon was still out and they go, “We enjoy that. We made that. That’s our creation and we love it.” They then said, “Norris, we love you. We don’t just love you. We like you. We like how we made you and we like being with you.” I sat there in my little hole in the woods bawling my eyes out with the Trinity because the relationship is pure and I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t have to earn it. It brought me back to those early days as a teenager. That’s what changed my life, knowing how much they love me and they have all of me.

When you’re in those performance-based places in life, those systems or roles of competition, whether it be sports or elsewhere, you have to live in these two different realities. This created the reality of that sphere. Whether it be your sport for performance or your job per for performance, whatever that may be, yet we have to work on untraining that within us and knowing that’s not the bigger version and picture of life. This is something that I know I still struggle with, even though I’m not in that sports space, in that career space of competing and trying to perform. How do you live in the midst of those two realms? I’m curious how you did it back after having this experience as a young man and coming to this realization, developing this relationship with the Trinity. What does that look like then to have your life be in both worlds in some ways and having to still perform on the football team but not having that be your identity? What was that process like for you? For most people and it was different for you, it’s not an overnight switch, it’s training. I’m curious what that training was like.

There were some clear watershed moments for me early on because I played hard and I like violence. Even as a child, the harder things were, the more violent things were, the more I liked, I enjoyed it. I loved the physicality of sport and football. I had people who were part of the church that we were with questioning whether I could call myself a Christian and play the way I was playing. I liked the hitting and there were those that thought that you couldn’t be a Christian and play the way you’re playing. These were people that I respected.

[bctt tweet=”The greatest leaders have not reputation in the world.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

This became a leadership principle that God used in my life from that point on. My dad, we were talking about this and he said, “Let’s go look at Acts 20 and that whole story of when Paul sailed pass emphasis, landed, lead us and all the elders came to him and told him not to go to Jerusalem.” He said, “These were not evil people. These were the elders. They were all telling him not to go to Jerusalem in the spirit.” They are hearing from God in the spirit. They weren’t speaking evil. They were speaking prophetically. Chains and death, “Don’t do this.” Paul heard clearly from God, “I want you to go to Jerusalem.” He told me back then he said, “Norris, you have to be able to hear God’s voice yourself. Even if everyone is telling you not to do it, if God’s telling you to do it, that’s what you have to do. Even if you are all alone and everybody is opposed to you, even those that are elders. If this is God’s voice in your life, that’s what you have to do.” That became a guiding principle for me because I knew I could hear God’s voice from an early age that I knew God was speaking to me so I made the decision. I’m going to keep playing because this is what I believe God has made me for, to do this thing.

Many people have a disconnect between the reality of living in the kingdom and playing sports. I never did. I remember in every practice, I would be having these conversations with the Lord saying, “Lord, how would you do this drill? How would you think here?” What happens is that God began to give me the vision which became part of my identity because I could see the whole field in my head as every play was an operation. It would happen instant pictures in my head. I could come up to the line. This is what the defense is.

I knew what every player and every position was doing, it would go in my head this fast, how to get open, where to arrive to make the block, and all of those things. I was experiencing his presence as I was playing and I thought, “I’ve got to be able to do this and play for his glory. I can’t have things separated in my life.” This life of living in the kingdom has to make sense in all parts of my life. How would Jesus play football? How would he think? How would he practice? How would he support his other teammates? How would he inspire? How would he lead? How would he endure when you feel like you can’t go on? I began to experience that as worship.

I know that may sound odd to some people, but that to me was a reality for a living. This thing called the Kingdom of God has to make sense in ordinary real life. It can’t just be for the spiritual parts of our existence. It has to make sense and it did for me. That came out of those early training times with my father on how do you experience God. He had me go to Colossian’s in whatever you do in word or do, do all in the name of Jesus. If you can’t, then you shouldn’t be doing it. Everything can be spiritual when we use that grid. I don’t separate the spiritual from the secular because we’re never separated from his love. That’s a lie that somehow what I’m doing separates me from him. Even some of the early investment evangelistic tools we were trained in, there’s this giant chasm and you’re separated from God. That’s not even true. Nothing can separate us from his love. All of our activities in life can be acts of worship, all of them. That’s how I approach playing.

As you transitioned out of football and you moved into what God had for you next, how did that experience shift for you when you were getting into different realms of whether it be mission work or in jobs of providing a living? Did you experience a shift in that, or was it a pivot over and a continuation for you at that time?

I got injured after I signed with the Steelers. My legs went numb from the waist down the first part of the preseason. I had the orthopedic guy for the 49ers back then Dr. Martin and he did an examination on me and he said, “You’re done. If your L5 is up against your sciatic and the way things are, if it moves anymore, you’re going to be paralyzed from the waist down.” It’s difficult. If you’re a golfer and if from one day to the next, you were told you can never golf and can never swing that club again. For a football player, that’s an immediate thing.

When you’re done, you can never do this thing that you’ve been doing now for a long time. If your identity is a football player, that’s going to crush you. That’s why many players have self-destructed because that’s been their identity and it’s not an identity. You bring your identity to every role that you have. Early on in my life, I had discovered who I was. My father had helped me figure that out, “Your identity isn’t football player, this is who you are. You bring your identity, you do this for him.” There were sadness and grief. I had to grieve that loss that I can’t do this anymore, but it didn’t change who I was. That was already secure.

Laurie and I were only married a year so my vision to play professional football didn’t happen all at once. It emerged. It does I was playing at college and had a lot of success. A small percentage of players go on to play professionally so I never had that as a guarantee. I had my degree. I finished my degree in four years. I had done a lot of other things besides play football while I was there. It started a fellowship for Christian athletes, a Chaplaincy program for the team. I may have done a lot of other things that had to do with who I was. Football was an add on.

I did want to have a home for juvenile delinquent boys for something that was in my head from even high school that God had shaped me for to work with marginal young men, to have them know who they are and their purpose in life. I thought, “I’ll play football, make enough money, buy a big ranch and fund the whole thing.” God had the same vision but a different path to where we were missionaries depended upon him every month. God did that for me because he took away the, “I did this. Look what I did.” He’s been faithful throughout my whole life saying, “No, Norris. It’s what I do.”

My father told me when I was twelve years old or so, “Norris, you can’t take any credit for even one molecule of your existence. That’s why God hates pride because of all this that we’ve given and then we start taking pride in it. It’s all from him and for him. Don’t read your own press clippings. This is about him and his glory.” He’s been faithful to keep me. I can’t take credit for anything. It’s been his grace, power, and him at work the whole time. The transition was hard, but the boy’s ranch thing came to being and God provided for us. We’ve been living by faith month by month since March of 1983. He has demonstrated his faithfulness as we follow him in obedience.

To focus on those years, I believe fourteen years for you at the boy’s ranch, was that right? 


Flying H. Ranch is what it’s called. What did you learn in those years of this missionary work in a boy’s ranch with other couples? Do you have any favorite experiences or memories from that time that paint the picture of what those years were like?

UAC 173 | Leaders Of No Reputation

Leaders Of No Reputation: You bring your identity to every role that you have.

When Laurie and I started, we had a three-month-old son. We weren’t much older than the boys that were there. The boys were ages 13 to 18. That’s all four of our kids were born and raised. This may shock some people. When we first moved to the boy’s ranch, it’s way up in the mountains, a 400-acre ranch. It was still on party lines. A party line meant that there were four people on the same phone line. You’d pick it up and it’d be your neighbor. He’d say, “Norris, I’ll be off in ten minutes.” There were four people on the same phone line. We had no cell phones and no television.

It was a different way for our kids being raised. They were outdoors all the time and then they were witnessing what hands-on discipleship looks like. Discipleship is a huge passion rather than teaching, but what does discipleship look like? It looks like being in the trenches with people living real life. We were there fourteen years and as you can imagine, hundreds and hundreds of boys went through there during that time. I’m still in contact with many of them. I’ve done their weddings, it’s been pure joy. Some of these guys are in their 50s now. Every day we did devotions and we had times of counseling, all of that.

In the hundreds, thousands of times that these guys have come back and said what they remember, never once did they ever say, “I remember that devotion you led or those things that you said.” They always talk about the experiences, “I remember when we were out bucking hay, training those horses, on the survival hike up in the mountains with no food for ten days and the experiences.” It’s all about the relationship that they remember. It cemented in us that be present. It’s not important what you say, it’s being present and trusting God to say what he wants to say during those moments.

Trusting God to speak through sitting around a fire or a hug. They would say to us, even though it was hard to be there, we felt safe and loved. God used that as a preparation tool for what real discipleship and leadership training look like because I believed back then that this marginal delinquent had chances to be leaders that no one else could be. They already weren’t afraid of much. They were willing to break the law for what they wanted.

If you could get guys like that to go out and lead, you got to shot it at different places that you and I can never go. I used to tell them when I was 25, “You came here because you thought you had this problem, but we’re going to send you out as a kingdom leader back to this home and school.” These principles of, you have a reason to be here has been a part of our life from day one since Laurie and I have been married. Those were great days. Those were training times. I have no regrets there.

When you think about vision and living life on vision with vision, one of the things that people have mentioned is that you’re a man of incredible vision and you’re able to distill down and clarity when there are competing visions per se and work with others in that. You’ve inevitably been able to do that in your life in the sense that one of the references I spoke to talked about how knowing your identity, as you’ve talked about at such a young age, and then being committed to it and living on that trajectory, your entire life is something that most people can’t say. It’s incredible to see the commitment, it’s lifelong in that. As you look back on it now, how do you maintain that commitment? How do you live committed to that identity and that calling in each season and phase and do it with consistency throughout your life? What role does vision play in that?

Vision is not hard for me. My wife used to be nervous. She thought we were moving every week because I would have a new vision for someplace or something because my imagination is vivid on how things could be here or there. One of the names God has given me is that I’m an eagle that sees. There are times when Jesus puts me on his back, you remember when Gandalf and the dwarves fell out of the trees and the eagles caught him. They were there on the backs of the eagles. It’s like that for me. We’re flying around and he shows me stuff, people, and changes that are coming.

It’s because I am comfortable with change and with the crisis, it’s also one of my core values. That has been part of God’s preparation for me that when a crisis happens, I don’t get ruffled. I like crisis and chaos moments and I’m okay with ambiguity. I’m okay that we thought we were going here, but God said, “No. I’m closing that door and now I’m doing this.” I’m okay with that, which helps me when I’m in leadership with a team that we may have been committed to this, but if God hiccups, we want to make sure we’re paying attention. We want to be listening to him and how do we do that.

My ability to build teams comes because I believe everybody has a reason to be on the team. How do you want people to know who they are and how they fit on the team rather than having everybody get on the team to fulfill what everybody should do? I value creativity. I love strategy and tactics. I love to think that way. Another name God has given me is I’m a field general. I’m not a general in the tower. When you’re on the field as a general, it’s different than sitting up and looking down.

You’re in the blood, the blood and the beer, you’re there with people. You see what’s going on with them, and you’ve got to be able to make decisions in those moments. That’s part of what God has helped me to do. I don’t get distracted in the middle of chaos and crisis. I still hear his voice. For me, knowing that about myself has been that anchor when the crisis and the change comes. A number of years ago, this girl we were at a different place. I was beating myself up a little bit because I’m not a naturally contemplative person that can sit in one place for a long period of time and hear from God that way.

I always wished that I was more like that but when I would see these people doing that, I’m more of an ADD guy and I like doing stuff. She came up to me and she said, “Norris, God wants to tell you something now. He likes how he made you. He doesn’t want you to be like these other people. He wants to speak to you while you’re moving.” It was such a powerful moment for me that God wants to speak to me while I’m moving because that’s how he made me. I want other people to be able to hear God how he made it in the way that he has wired them. When we try to tell people, “You only hear from God one way.” We have our seminar on the five steps to hearing from God.

Some guy who is sitting over there going, “I can’t do that. I can’t hear from God,” versus, “How does God want to speak to you in how he made you in your identity?” That’s how I like to build teams where people learn how to hear from God themselves because, without their voice, the team suffers. As a field general, you got to be comfortable with a lot of disparity in what people hear. It didn’t throw you off. That’s why Laurie and I survived so long with juvenile delinquent boys. The average time working with that group of the population is about eighteen months because it’s stressful. I’m just wired that way. I liked the chaos. You’ve got 35 juvenile delinquents, your head has got to be on a swivel. There are fights happening all around your conflict. It’s just gifting. It’s the way God wire some people can handle it. Some people can’t, it’s no judgment. It’s the way God does stuff. I like crisis, chaos and change. None of those things changes who I am.

It’s cool that you brought up there was that moment when God spoke to you through the woman saying that he likes the way that he made you. It was this conflict between how he’s made you versus how he’s made other people that we often desire giftings or abilities other people have or strengths that they have that aren’t ours but we want that. We desire that or it’s even a false identity that we are hanging on to. This is something that happens to me and I’m sure it happens to everyone reading a lot. What are other examples of clinging to something that isn’t you or a trait that you want, but isn’t what God has given you specifically, and there has been me needing to be a rebalance or a reminder that that’s not who you are?

[bctt tweet=”The Kingdom of God has to make sense in ordinary, real life. Everything we do can be an act of worship.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

This has to do with significance. If this thing gives me significance versus what God has designed. Some of the hardest times in my have been when I have felt like I’ve given myself to something and then God takes it and gives it to somebody else after it’s up and running. I’m then wrestling with, “Where am I getting my significance from this accomplishment or am I getting my significance by being in the kingdom, by being in a relationship with the King knowing my identity in him?” That goes back to, “Am I a football player?” No. All of these things are all along with our life.

We wrestle with where we’re getting significance. Laurie and I have been married for many years. We had lots of hard times, but if I get my significance from, “We’ve been married 40 years,” that’s just as much a false identity as, “I’m a drug addict.” The enemy uses two things to keep us from knowing who we are. He uses the curses of men, “You’re no good. You’ll never be worth anything. You’re an accident. You’re an addict. You’ll never amount to anything.” All of these curses of men, the enemy uses to build these negative false identities. The other part of this is the praises of men.

He uses the praises of men to keep us from knowing who we are. The praises of men are things that we get paid for. We get notoriety for, we get promotions for, we sell books about, and these feel good. They don’t seem negative and we don’t want to get rid of them. I was doing training in Nigeria last November 2019. These 35 liters and the whole training was on learning to hear from God, your identity, and how to become a leader of no reputation. As we were working through this and we did the whole curses of men thing, and we had people write down what are the things that these negative labels that God has put on you.

They wrote all these things down and then they confessed it. I said, “This other one is a little harder.” I had no idea who was in the room, but I said, “There might be a lawyer in the room, pastor, missionary, farmer,” whatever it is that you like about yourself, we’re going to write those things down. He was a lawyer and he says, “Norris, I like to get rid of these negative things but if I’m not these things, who am I?” I said, “That’s the right question to be asking because these false identities keep us from knowing who we are as much as the negative ones.

When those get taken away, then you have to face your own identity crisis.” If you’re a football player and then you can’t do it anymore. Who are you? The same thing, if my identity is husband, father versus knowing who you are and you bring your identity to every one of those roles. I bring my identity to my role as father, husband, football player. My identity comes with me everywhere I go. None of these roles, titles, or positions ever define who I am.

That’s super good. Having the distinction and clarity between identity and roles, what a helpful rubric in that. You brought up one that is common, husband. For me being a newer husband, this is something that’s also fitting and pertinent. I’m curious, in your 40 years in marriage and having the role of a husband, where have you seen that tension of identity versus role pop-up? How have you managed to grow through that with your wife?

Marriage may be the place where if we’re honest enough, it’s where we can identify our own struggles with kingdom issues. All of us have our own little kingdoms we’re building. We will protect and promote those kingdoms. They’re all a false identity of some kind and nowhere does that become more paramount than in the marriage relationship because that’s the closest relationship. Nobody knows you better than your spouse. Early on as we got married back in 1980, I wanted Laurie to fit into my lifestyle. She was beautiful and fun. I didn’t think I needed to do any changes.

I wanted her to become more like me and that didn’t work at all. Over the years, learning this ability to submit myself and Laurie submitting herself because when you get married, you lose some freedoms. You don’t get to do all the things you want to do. The one who thinks they can keep living and doing everything they want, those marriages don’t last. You have to sacrifice. I have to sacrifice. Jesus said, “Love your wife as Christ loved the church.” He went all the way to the cross for the church. How far am I willing to go for my wife? It seems like I got to go all the way to the cross.

I have to give up my life. What part of me don’t I get to do? I am sacrificing that for her and vice versa. When you approach it that way that we are here to build the other one into who they’re supposed to be, then I’m going to sacrifice myself so that they can live into their identity. That’s part of the marriage relationship. That’s hard to do. It’s easy to say. We internally build these kingdoms that we self-protect and self-promote. At least for me, they pop up with Laurie quicker than anybody else. When in actuality, I know nobody is for me like she is. Why do I experience this self-protection and self-promotion with her when I know that she’s for me like nobody else? That’s part of the enemy’s tactic to try to kill and destroy us.

He wants us to be destroyed. One of the things that have transformed our relationship is we ask a little differently. The prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” We’ve taken that away from, the Earth is not my responsibility for his kingdom to come in now but what if I said, “Your kingdom come, your will be done in our kitchen now?” What would the Kingdom of God look like in our kitchen, living room, bedroom, and kids’ houses? The reality is we’re in this kingdom. Let’s make it real. Forget the whole Earth. That’s not my responsibility.

One day, I had to confess to Laurie. Early in the morning, I had said something and I got conviction saying, “That’s not kingdom language, how you said it, the way you said it.” I came back to her in the afternoon. I said, “I apologize for that.” She then said, “Were you apologizing for the way you said it or the content?” All of a sudden, here I was trying to be spiritual, coming and that internal self-protection and self-promotion blip back up. In my head, I’m going, “Can’t you accept it?” The Holy Spirit kept speaking to me right there. He said, “Norris, what are you protecting? What are you promoting?”

Those little things that we can do for each other and it doesn’t always land well. Laurie will say to me, “Were you living in the kingdom when you said that to me?” We laugh about it now, but it has been this helpful reminder. The Kingdom of God is our 24/7 reality. Let’s talk and act like it. It’s helped alleviate much of the natural propensity to self-protection and self-promotion because that’s not a kingdom mindset.

It’s an amazing thing, but what would the world look like if we were able to eliminate self-protection and self-promotion? That’s a fascinating picture to think about. Before we wrap up, there are two more that see in this culture. The first comes back to team building and a lot of what you’ve talked about even already in your ability to build teams and what that takes. I feel like one of the topics that were brought up in some calls was this idea of tribalism. Tribalism could be the unhealthy side of team building of being a part of a group or a tribe. Not out of your own role or identity, but the larger identity of being associated with it. A lot of that is seen in this idea of tribalism and how we often drift towards that. I’m curious what your thoughts are on tribalism and how to combat that in building healthy teams or helping people live out of their individual identities.

UAC 173 | Leaders Of No Reputation

Leaders Of No Reputation: Real discipleship is being in the trenches with people living real life.


Tribalism promotes us versus them mentality, which is counter to the Kingdom of God. Tribalism promotes a type of unification rather than the unity that’s found in diversity. Seeing how the Kingdom of God has brought different tribes together, for example, Lebanese and Syrian people, which they’ve grown up hating each other. Being trained to kill each other and the same is true with different tribes in Nigeria to sit with people who have been driven out by Boko Haram. They’re now being told by God to go back, go up there and build relationships with these people who hate you. Love them, forgive them, doing a whole-time with Jesus on forgiving your enemies with people who have their whole identity is hating their enemy.

They’ve grown up not only I hate you, but we as an entire nation hate you and you hate us. Now we’re going to ask you to come and sit together, love and forgive each other. That’s what happens in the kingdom. It’s completely counterintuitive to how we think we’re going to regain control of our power. Tribalism, one tribe wanting to regain power over the other tribe. What the enemy is trying to get people to go and do is to use coercive power. We’ve got to exert coercive power over this other tribe. That’s how we’re going to get what we want versus we’re going to use influential love to go on love these people that are completely different than us.

We’re going to go love, forgive, and empower them. We don’t even think that’s a good tactic. That’s why you’ve got all these tribes sitting around going, “We don’t know what to do now, but we’re going to stay in our tribes and we’re going to hate and avoid each other.” I remember I was at this church years ago and they wanted to take me out for lunch after church. As we approached the restaurant, here’s a whole group of Hells Angels all sitting in their bikes and the regalia. They give off this vibe of, “You better be afraid about us.” There was a waiting list.

I went over and I started talking to these Hells Angels. Visiting with them and then I didn’t live in this town. I grabbed a couple of them. I brought them over to introduce them to these people from the church. There was this stiffness. Afterward, one of the guys said, “You know what you did, don’t you?” I said, “No.” He said, “We were upset that you went and talked to those people. They’re not part of us and you brought them over to meet us. You upset all of this grid that we live in of self-protection. We don’t love Hells Angels.” I’ve asked this question to the church many times, “Do you love Muslims? This tribe that you think is out to kill you? Do you love them? God does.”

Can you imagine what it was like when Paul, the Apostle saw and came to town? Everybody ran, hid their children, “Hide your silverware, Paul’s in town. He’s going to take us. He’s going to throw us in jail. He’s going to kill us.” That was his reputation. Nobody wanted Paul to come to town. I said, “Who were the Paul’s in our world that we want to avoid, but God’s ready to use him to change the world?” We live in this fear. That tribalism is the enemy’s tactic. I believe to overcome tribalism, you got to use influential love. It’s not trying to make them into us. It’s trying to love them for who they are. The tribes are all around us. The challenge for each of us is to say, “What tribe am I in that I’m protecting and promoting? Lord, take me out of my tribe.”

The second one that I’d love to know your thoughts on is this idea of what healthy or godly masculinity looks like. You’ve worked with young men at the boy’s ranch. You’ve lived an incredible life as a man, and I am struck by a picture. I feel like you live out what healthy masculinity looks like in that. It’s something that in our modern-day culture, it’s had this negative personification around men due to a lot of the moving pieces within the culture and the way that unhealthy masculinity has pervaded some of the world and history as we know it. Now, it’s relearning how to talk about it or live it in a healthy way and what that looks like and what God calls us to as men. What are your thoughts on that and on this idea of what healthier godly masculinity looks like?

That’s a real live subject there. The term that has been used in an abusive way is the whole term of headship, being the head of your home. The way that I view being the head or the leader is you’re the doormat. You’re the person, everybody wipes their feet on because it depends on you. Headship is a servant’s role. Jesus demonstrated what headship was by giving up his life for us. How do we lead as men by giving up our lives for those that we’re married to, those that are children, those that are our neighbors that are our friends? What if true masculinity had everything to do with sacrifice? What if true masculinity had everything to do with honoring the differences in people?

What of headship had everything to do with building up the other and loving them rather than having them serve you? Jesus demonstrated what it was. We’re the ones that took it and made it into something that was unhealthy. I don’t think anybody did as much for women as Jesus did. Look at all the times when women were the first ones. I love how he always empowered those people and showed us what real headship and servant leadership looks like. If true masculinity looked like servant leadership rather than position or title as the head, it changes the whole game. It changes the way we play. Identity is under attack all over the world.

There’s a demonic agenda to destroy identity, personal identity, even what masculine identity looks like because there has been toxic masculinity and it’s been global. We don’t want to go back to that, but we don’t want to not address what true masculinity looks like either. It’s a legitimate role to be the head of a home, to be the head of the family, but let’s make it what Jesus meant it to be. Don’t throw the rollout because people have screwed it up. Masculinity for me meant asking forgiveness a lot, asking forgiveness of my kids a lot for being a jackass, for being disempowering, for saying things I shouldn’t have said to being honest about my failures.

True masculinity is not getting it all right. It’s admitting when you’re wrong. True masculinity means being first to admit you’re wrong. Lead in the right things. True masculinity has everything to do with humility, the humility of Christ to never think it was something to be equal with God. He demonstrated what humility was. Without humility, we can’t become biblical leaders. We can’t become kingdom leaders without it. True masculinity is cloaked in humility.

Thank you for those words. I’m struck by, and also I’ve heard from others your endurance and the wisdom that comes through suffering as you’ve talked about. As we close this, I’m curious if there’s a moment that you reflect on in your life where endurance where the rubber meets the road of having to endure one of the darkest, lowest moments in your life? What that point brought or taught you? Do you have a memory or a moment that comes to mind in one of those dark or valley times?

When I was transitioning from the Flying H. Ranch to Novo, those were some dark moments. There were unhealthy members of the board and the leadership. I don’t need to go into all of it. We felt like we were going to be there as a life’s work. I had a vision for stuff and then it all got taken away. There was this point because I had told the board, “I will always be honest with you.” I had to tell them, “These are the decisions you’re making that are unethical. You’re making these decisions and it’s affecting all of us. These are unethical things that you’re doing as a board.”

You can imagine how they received that so I got taken out of the position of being the director. I was the lowest person on the staff. I was ready to leave and go. I don’t have to stay here. I got lots of places I could go to. My wife who’s wise and she said, “Norris, we cannot leave like that. We’ve built too many relationships with people, not only on the ranch but in the community for us to disappear.” She looked at me and she says, “You’re going to have to endure and we’re going to have to leave right.” Those were painful months. It was nine more months. We’re isolated and alone. It was her and I, but what God did during those days with us and him, he brought us back to our relationship with him. He opened up Novo after all of that. We left right. We left well. We didn’t leave in a huff and anger. We endured. Those were powerful moments for Laurie and me, for our relationship with each other and with the Lord to endure those times.

[bctt tweet=”True masculinity is cloaked in humility.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

You’ve talked a lot about your dad and the lessons that he’s imparted to you. I’d love to know one last story, what he had told you when looking up the universe as a kid.

I was 9 or 10 years old and my dad knew that I love math and science. He’s reading to me about the speed of light. We were sitting in his bedroom. He’s saying, “The speed of light is 186,000 miles a second.” He goes over, “Go turn the light switch on and off. Since you can’t see it, it’s too fast.” Pluto was still a planet then, I don’t know if it got kicked out of the solar system he said, “If you were to travel to Pluto and back at the speed of light at 186,000 miles a second, how long would it take you to get there?” I said, “I don’t know.”

He said, “It’s 30 years. That’s how far away it is. Traveling that fast, it would take you 30 years to get there and back. At the same time, the Earth would age 3,000 years.” Remember I’m 9 or 10 years old and I’m sitting there and I’m thinking about this. He said, “It’s because the closer you get to the speed of light, aging slows down. If you could travel 1% faster than the speed of light, aging stops.” He’s blowing my mind. I’m a little kid. He leans over to me and he says, “God is light and there’s no darkness at all. He’s the ageless one. He’s the eternal one. He uses the Earth as a footstool, but he’s looking for you.” I’ve always had this big view of God. He’s never been small to me. He’s been intimate because he said, “To this one, I will look through who is humble, contrite and he trembles at my word.” That’s who he’s looking for. He’s looking for those people all over the world. I have a fascination with the speed of light, quantum mechanics. I love that stuff. I love to think about it because God’s in it. He created it. He likes it.

What a story, that’s incredible. Your father sounds like an incredible man. What a legacy. Norris, this has been a real joy. I have three pages of notes here. We could go on forever. I want to end with one-offs before we’re done. The first is what are you most proud of in your life and work this far?

That I’m still married to Laurie Ann. My kids love me and they want to talk to me. My grandkids love me. They liked being with their papa. That’s big medicine to me.

What book or books have had the biggest impact on you?

I did graduate school at NOMMA and there was a professor there named David Needham. He used to teach the Old Testament, the Minor Prophets. It was like we were in the presence of Jesus every time we were in class. We’d be sitting on the edge of our seat. When we were done. He was filled with the presence of God. He wrote a book called Birthright. It’s an old book, but it was one of the first times that I heard and I read somebody talks about what our birthright is in the kingdom of God and that this is what’s possible in this reality that we have and who we were born to be our birthright. That was a great book for me. More book that I got a bunch of them that I’m reading now. Anything that has to do with that subject. There’s one that I read by Brueggemann, which I’ve had to reread 2 or 3 times because it’s been powerful. It has to do with a prophecy called The Prophetic Imagination. That’s a brilliant book and it’s an older book as well, but I have been blessed by that.

What question do you ask yourself the most?

I asked the trinity, “These are ideas or thoughts that I have. What do you guys think about this?” They want to talk.

The final question that we ask every guest that comes on, if you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say and why as a short message from you to their phones every morning?

UAC 173 | Leaders Of No Reputation

Leaders Of No Reputation: Tribalism promotes the “us versus them” mentality, which runs counter to the Kingdom of God.


Remember they like you. They like how they made you and they want to talk to you. Don’t shut them out.

What a fitting way to end this conversation, Norris. How powerful. I am grateful that you took the time to come. This has been an incredible joy and impact for me as I’m sure everyone reading.

Thank you, Thane. I appreciate the time. I truly do. I bless God for you.

Thank you. If people want to reach out or find out some more from you and your story, is there any place that you would direct people to connect with or any place for them to reach out?

I don’t have much of a presence on the internet on purpose because of some of the places that I go to. I’m not sure how to answer that question. They could email me and I’ll try to respond. Sometimes I hit select all and delete because there are too many. To be honest, I’m old school that way. They could reach out to me that way. I could make that available to you and if they reach out to you and then you can direct them to my email, I’m fine doing that.

If you want to get in touch with Norris, you can send us a question for him at Norris, until next time, thanks. This has been such a joy.

Thank you, Thane. Blessings to you and your family.

Thank you. For you reading, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out. 

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About Norris Williams

UAC 173 | Leaders Of No ReputationDiscovering and Serving Near Culture Leaders through mentoring and inspiration, ordinary men and women become Kingdom leaders able to build and lead teams committed to multiplying gospel movements where they live. Men and women become leaders of no reputation, who know their true identity, who know how to hear from God themselves, who know how to prune to bear more fruit and who know the difference between strategy and tactics.



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UAC 172 | Renaissance Man


In the modern world, many of us are overly specialized. While that has its many benefits, oftentimes, we miss out on seeing the best of other things because we focus too much on one thing. As a modern-day renaissance man, Abel James has known this to be true. Abel is a New York Times best-selling author, musician, online creator, the host of the award-winning Fat-Burning Man. In this episode, he joins Thane Marcus Ringler to share his unique perspective against specialization and why it is necessary to strive for a holistic balance in life. He tells us about his daily practices, the origin story of his show, the things he has learned from coping and navigating through trauma, and the inside perspective on entrepreneurship. Plus, Abel also talks about the importance of operating with integrity, innovating into the future, taking back ownership of the online world, and so much more. Join him and Thane in this interesting discussion as they pull back the curtains of many things and remind us that everything is connected.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”172: Abel James: A Renaissance Man: Reshaping The Argument Against Specialization And Striving For Holistic Balance As A Practice Of Life”]

Abel James: A Renaissance Man: Reshaping The Argument Against Specialization And Striving For Holistic Balance As A Practice Of Life

This is a show all about learning how to live a good life. We believe that takes living with intentionality. A reason why behind what we do in life has many tensions. We get the chance to live in the midst of daily that we must have a greater purpose and reason why. On this show, we interview people on the process of becoming which we all are, hopefully, our entire lives as we learn throughout our lives. Thanks for being a fellow up and comer and joining us on this journey of becoming. If you want to help our show out, there are a couple of easy ways. The first is leaving a rating and review on iTunes. That takes about a minute and is such a great way to support our show.

We’ve got over 100. We would love to get over 200 soon. Please go to Apple Podcasts and do that now if you have a spare minute or subscribe to whatever platform you use. The other great ways by sharing this episode. If you enjoy this interview or if you enjoyed a past episode and you thought of someone to send it to you, please do that. It takes a few seconds, just text it to them. You could even do a social media post and tag us @UpAndComersShow. That’s a great way to get the word out.

Finally, if you want to support us financially, that would be a huge blessing. We have expenses each month and it’s not for free. If you want to help us cover those expenses, please consider donating monthly on Patreon. You can find us @TheUpAndComersShow on Patreon by searching for us there. Finally, if you ever have any questions, comments, concerns or thoughts, please email us at That is it for housekeeping.

I’m excited about this interview. It is an interview with Abel James. He is The New York Times best-selling author, musician and online creator. He’s the host of the award-winning The Fat-Burning Man Show, rated as Apple’s number one health podcast in eight countries with over 50 million downloads and 2,000-plus five-star reviews. A coach to the coaches, Abel has worked with thousands of people across the world to optimize performance, mindset, health and longevity. Abel was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness by Greatist. He has been featured in documentaries, ABC TV, Entertainment Tonight, People, Wired, SXSW and hundreds more. Abel’s hit podcast is named as one of the top three Health and Fitness Podcasts of All Time by The Huffington Post and has won four awards in independent media including People’s Choice in Health and Fitness at the Podcast Awards.

Also a recording artist, multi-instrumentalist and voice actor, Abel has won several awards including Outstanding Achievement in Songwriting in R&B by The Great American Song Contest. Hailing from the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire, Abel enjoys playing guitar and piano, writing, reading, sketching, running, hiking and discovering delicious foods with family and friends. He lives with his wife, Alyson, and her rambunctious yellow lab in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. His new book of irreverent poetry called Designer Babies Still Get Scabies, a number one international bestseller in humor is available now. Abel is a man with a lot going on.

In this interview, we talk about Abel’s daily practices, the origin story of the Fat-Burning Man Show, weird things that he learns from coping and navigating through trauma and inside perspective, and pulling back the curtain on entrepreneurship. The importance of operating with integrity, innovating into the future, taking back ownership of the online world and much more. He’s a great guy. I enjoyed this time. There’s so much that we can learn from him. It was a wide-ranging conversation, but you’ll find it as interesting and thought-provoking as I did. I definitely recommend checking that out. He’s an inspiration and encouragement to many and I know that you’re going to enjoy this fascinating, fun and wide-ranging interview with Abel James.

Abel James, welcome.

Thanks for having me.

It’s going to be a fun time together. I’ve enjoyed getting to talk with you a bit and get to know a little bit more about your story. It’s a lot of fun researching all the things you do. You’re multifaceted and multitalented. We’re going to get into a lot of that, but according to your mom, you’re a great poet, singer, incredible musician playing several instruments with expertise and an actor. That was about half of what you do. We’re in for a great show.

It’s not normally the case that people would get to talk to my mom before the show. I’m happy that you guys got to connect. It’s amazing.

The other thing that people reading wouldn’t be able to see is someone else, another mutual connection or a friend commented about your Captain America hair. You’ve got some Captain America hair going. The other thing I heard is you are defined as is having a golden voice. You’ve got a lot of things going for you. The other description I heard and it might be on your website even too is a Renaissance Man. What does it mean to you to be a Renaissance Man?

In the modern world, many of us are overly specialized. Looking back to a few generations before us, it wasn’t uncommon that if something broke around the house, that you could fix it. Even if your car had a problem, you could change out the oil or fix a flat tire. Now, if you’re able to do any of these things, it’s the exception. I’m not saying that I’m able to do all these things either. What I am saying is that it can serve us to become specialized. You’re a glaring example of the success of that approach. I’ve had success with that approach in various aspects of my life, not to the degree that you have. When you start seeing golf, music, dancing as one thing or different expressions of a similar thing instead of as separate things, then all of a sudden you can start to see the best practices between them.

[bctt tweet=”When you start seeing things as one instead of as separate, you can suddenly start to see the best practices between them. ” username=”upandcomersshow”]

One example that I use is when I get tendonitis from running up the mountain too hard and fast, and I don’t give myself enough rest and recovery, it’s similar to when I overdo it playing on my guitar or I’m playing too many gigs. I get tendonitis from that. No matter what you’re doing in your life, oftentimes I’ve found that the answer comes from an oblique angle. It comes from the other side, from another domain. It comes from experimenting in a totally different vertical. I was grateful to have an education where that was the idea at the high school that I went to. Everybody does sports. Everybody does art. Everybody does a little bit of everything and you can learn more about all these different domains if you take that approach.

It’s one of the best arguments or descriptions for being a generalist that I’ve heard, which I love because it is an uncommon argument now. As you see your current life and the different plates or buckets you have your hand in, how would you say you practically apply this? As you look at what you’re trying to do in each space, how do you intentionally incorporate this lateral thinking of I’m not coming up with a problem in this realm, so I’m going to give it some space. What is that process like for you?

A lot of times, it’s realizing the simple things that we tend to forget. Once you get good at music or at a sport, you don’t stay good forever. That’s not how that works. The path to mastery doesn’t end with rainbows, sunshine and butterflies everywhere. It’s through the daily practices that you become, whatever you want to be or stay whatever you want to be and keep those chops. You keep that level of mastery, but it easily slips away if you all of a sudden don’t do the exercises or play the songs that you’re meant to do. As soon as you stop meditating or stop doing your daily walks and stop hydrating correctly, all this stuff falls apart, but we blame something else in our life. We want to find a magic bullet.

We want to layer something else on top of it instead of being like, “Did I do the simple things that I know always work?” For me, even from a body composition standpoint, I’ve been doing intermittent fasting for many years and it’s one of the ways that I keep my weight in check because sometimes it’s easy to let your eye off the ball and have fun on a bunch of weekends. Go out drinking, go on a vacation or what have you or have things creep up on you. I like being at 171, 175. When I get close to 180, then the cream comes out of the coffee. I stop taking supplements or anything else in the morning. It’s a pure fast until noon. If I do those things, I know this because I’ve done it many times, then eventually it’s I’ll lose a couple of pounds a week or over a couple of months, I’ll be back toward where I want to be. That’s not a complicated thing to do, but it’s a matter of doing it.

It’s always easy to talk about on a show. I’m curious, in your current life, where do you feel the least well-rounded or where do you feel the most imbalanced?

Cashflow comes up sometimes, especially as you try to grow your business, grow your team, expand into different domains or as a function. Sometimes the business landscape as with the pandemic and everything that’s happened, the rug is pulled from underneath your feet. You need to adapt fast and get rid of the things that aren’t working and try to do something more. The challenge that we have as I’m growing business and doing this many times over the years is when you’re hiring staff, not only does it cost money, but then you have to manage them. That pulls you away from doing that. If you make the wrong call there, it’s expensive from a time and energy standpoint and from a monetary standpoint too. That’s been our biggest challenge over the years with every single business. We’ve made more than $1 million in sales in a month and that didn’t save us from having to keep doing that. It’s similar to mastery. If you want to keep that, you have to keep doing it.

I love that story and illustration because life is a journey. There’s no arrival. We think about $1 million in a month in sales is a destination and we’re set. I don’t think there are any set and it isn’t what we want anyways because life isn’t stagnant.

That’s not enough money anyway if you have a team of significant size. That sounds like a ton of money. If you take out the big difference between revenue and margin, you take that or you take out 60%, 70%, then you pay your staff. All of a sudden, you’re making $5,000 a year than making $1 million. That happens more often than people realize.

You have to spend money to make money. The difference is usually smaller than you would expect. That’s a good point. I want to rewind the clock a little bit. Speaking of podcasts, you’ve been in the podcasting game for quite a bit. I feel the origins might have started in the seventh-grade bedroom radio show with Dave Potter. What was this origin story like?

Dave Potter was one of my best friends and still is one of my best friends in the world. He was the best basketball player and had the best jump shot in elementary school. Whenever I could partner up with him, we did and we became best friends. I was more the supportive player in that sport. In soccer, it flipped. We had this wonderful thing over the years. We were best friends and we love laughing together too. We didn’t have the internet or social media as it exists now. Back then, we did have a little bit of internet but what we loved to do was goof around and we had this tape player. Later on, I did it on a computer because I was getting into computer recording and stuff.

We started using old Monty Python sketches and sound effects and making each other laugh with what you’d expect from 6th or 7th-grade boys. It was a blast. Lo and behold, it’s what I do for a living now. Not the immature potty humor or whatever from a sixth-grader or Monty Python jokes as much. I stand in front of a microphone and I edit the sound files in almost exactly the same way that I used to back then as someone who was in junior high. When we look at kids who are coming up, it’s tempting to think like, “That’s cute.”

If someone does something in sixth grade for a couple of months, that’s almost like 5 or 10 years once you’re later in life. There’s some weird thing about the time back then, where if you fall in love with something I did with music and with the goofy radio show, sports, moving and all sorts of things. If I didn’t fall in love back then, I’m not sure I ever would have. It’s a good example of why parents and communities at large should try to help kids find whatever that thing is that they can fall in love with. That oftentimes become, if not their profession, then a major part of their lives for the rest of their lives.

UAC 172 | Renaissance Man

When you start seeing things as one instead of as separate, you can suddenly start to see the best practices between them.

For a lot of people, when they hear that, they will often think, “I remember the things I loved as a kid and I’m not doing that at all.” In a sense, for people that find themselves in that situation of this disconnect between our childhood loves and what we’re doing now. I feel a lot of adulthood is returning to that childlike state in many ways. What was that journey for you? Did you ever have a disconnect between those? Was it always a part of your life?

I’ll give you one example. Around the time I turned 30, I broke my foot and that made it hard to exercise, to do weightlifting. I’ve been a lifelong runner. I’ve always loved to run, but when I was younger, I loved mountain biking. This is before I got a car. I would bike to and from school up rough terrain. It’s hilly and sandy in New Hampshire. I had some bad spills or whatever, but I loved it. I grew up, I had to move or whatever. I went through a couple of bikes, but I had to sell them. I forgot how much I loved to ride my mountain bike. I had to break my foot and then buy a bike so that I could ride a little bit with my boot on with that broken foot, but it took me breaking my foot for me to realize it.

I hopped on that bike again and I’m like, “I love this. It’s so much fun.” That doesn’t mean that you have to do it forever. I’m not in mountain biking season, but it’s sitting right over there and it’s ready to go when I’m feeling it. It’s important to find those different things in your life, and also accept that sometimes you want to do it. Other times, you want to do something else. You’re like, “I don’t want to do mountain biking. I don’t want to do skiing, but I want to go for a hike,” for example. I have many days like that. Sometimes you have to follow whatever that moving target is. I’m sure you can relate to that.

It’s a dance, which makes it more fun. Dancing is way more fun than walking through life. Let’s be good dancers. I’ve heard you’re also fairly into birdwatching.

Is that from David? It’s funny because he asked me. He’s like, “What’s one thing that no one would ever know about you?” It’s like, “I record on podcasts all day and people ask all these questions. Something that no one knows about me?” I had to rack my brain. That is something that I’ve been into more, not as something that we seek out, but it’s something that my wife and I have sought out when we pick out a place to live and we’re renting where we are, but we’ve done this in a number of places over the years. That’s one of the things that we prioritize. What is nature watching like? Can we look at the birds sitting down drinking coffee in the morning?

We’ve lived in many different places. We’ve lived on the road for several years. That five-minute walk around your house is the most important part of your life because you’re going to be spending 80% of your time or at least your free time within that five-minute zone. You’re going to be walking out. If you have a dog, what should we do? You’re going to be walking out there every day. You’re going to be seeing these neighbors every day. You’re going to be looking down at this view every day. We try to put birds there and deer and mountain lions and bears sometimes or whatever. We love living in the mountains or in the environment and being able to look at nature and realize that you’re the one inside the zoo.

It’s comfy to be inside the zoo in the morning up here in the mountains when there’s a bear out there. It makes you feel more connected as part of a magical ecosystem where you can tell, looking at all these different birds and animals. People who watch nature documentaries don’t realize that a lot of those animals are baited or they’re made to fight each other. That’s not how nature is. Nature is cooperative and it’s like a dance. Seeing all these different animals throughout the day, it helps me stay grounded and balanced. We all would be well-served to have a little bit more nature in our lives

Nature is cooperative. That’s a great way to put it. It flows together. It helps us be connected. What are other practices for you that help you stay grounded or connected? As a man wearing many hats and having your hands in many pots, there’s so much pulling for your attention and vying for your energy. There has to be something that rhythms and practices that keep you grounded. I’m curious about what those core ones are.

It’s such a great point to bring that up because if you don’t have those things in line, it’s easy to go off the rails. A lot of people don’t realize that just because someone does have a show or they’re playing professional sports, a lot of times they wake up and they don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. After I wake up, I do a little bit of no outside tech, no artificial lights or what have you. Oftentimes, I wake up with the sun or a little bit before the sun. I’ll write my dreams. Whatever is bouncing around in the subconscious. I’ll try to get out there if I remember it. I don’t every time, but then I’ll try to do a little bit of reading that’s meaningful, intellectual, spiritual or theoretical symbolic type stuff. That’s off the wall but fun to think about.

It’s like, “Why are we here?” I try to wake up and ask these questions and try to learn a little bit of weird stuff like old rooms. I’m learning how to interpret rooms and learning old ancient symbology and spiritualism according to different practices. That’s how I try to wake up. For 5 or 10 minutes, I’ll do a reading of some kind. Generally, I’ll try to do about 5 or 10 minutes of Tai Chi, Qigong type of exercises, which is not only physical movement and mobility but also breathing. I don’t think of it as doing breath holds and slowing down my breath and all that because it’s built into the movements I’m already doing. It’s breathwork as well, but I don’t necessarily think it is. You hear a lot of people talking about cold showers and doing hardcore breathwork and stuff. It’s interesting. I’ve tried a lot of those. I don’t like it. I don’t like hardcore breathing.

I’ve done it and maybe I will get into it but it’s like, “Right now, I’m not riding that mountain bike.” It’s important to know that you don’t have to put everything there. You don’t have to make it super hard if you don’t want to. You do the simple things that pay off. After I have those things done, usually I’ll do the exercise in the sunshine. I try to get sunlight depending on the season as soon as I can in the day, have it hit my skin and my eyes. Also, I’ll do that in front of a red light or near-infrared device like wall panels. That can be healing and feels good and helps warm you up. We live in a place that gets quite cold.

That’s a nice, relaxing, almost like a mini sauna type experience as I do some of my exercises, and then a little bit of quiet meditation but not much. I go after my day but I usually start it off with my sketchbook. A blank piece of paper and I’ll write down the priorities and scribble them out hard. I’ve been doing this since I was 12 or 13. I read a book that all the geniuses in time ever kept a journal. I don’t know how much of that was true. It was the market-y type language, but I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s one of the best habits I have.

[bctt tweet=”There’s such a temptation to think that everything’s getting better, and we’re moving on up, but our culture is extremely destructive.  ” username=”upandcomersshow”]

Isn’t it fun that it doesn’t have to be the perfect impulse or start to something? It’s something that connects enough with us that we commit to doing it. That’s the payoff. That’s cool. I’m curious. I have to ask two questions about this. One is what have you learned about old ruins and what has surprised you about going down that rabbit hole? The other is what is the strangest or most bizarre thing you’ve dove into in that realm?

You said ruins and I said runes, but also it’s the same thing. When you look back to the ancient cultures, let’s start with runes. I wanted to look at languages that are different from our own. In some languages, to a higher degree, you can express multiple ideas at the same time in a way that you can’t in English. You look back at some of the hieroglyphics and glyphs and there are a lot. We live in the American Southwest. I love taking road trips out here and there are many old petroglyphs and bizarre things. They’re at places with ruins. The ones that we visited have been breathtaking to the point where you look around now. We’ve got Taco Bell and we’ve got these giant buildings that are rectangle.

You look at some of these ruins from thousands of years ago that they built into cliff sides or on places that should have eroded or places that are exposed to ridiculous earthquakes over thousands of years. They’re still hanging out, being beautiful with perfect proportions, with no explanation for how they would have been cut or designed. Even modern man would struggle to build a lot of the things that were built thousands of years ago. The idea that our ancestors were a bunch of knuckle-dragging idiots is a total myth to me. It’s a myth that we’re progressing also when you look at what was valued by ancient societies. We live in Colorado now and the Utes, the Native American tribe, used to live here. They and other tribes would spend decades manipulating trees, tying them down, twisting them such that they would indicate where the water was.

You could find navigation, you could find trails and they were doing this. They were manipulating these trees as a language of the forest such that the seven generations ahead of them down the road would be able to read the woods and find water. They were providing for their progeny and they were trying to improve the world. They were thinking ahead and we could learn a lot from that. Especially now, there’s such a temptation to think that everything’s getting better and we’re moving on up, but our culture is extremely destructive.

We could dive down a million rabbit holes. It’s going to take some discernment to know what because we could talk for days. I want to rewind the clock because it’s clear that you are well-versed and a well-rounded individual. That doesn’t happen without fire or refinement in some ways. I’m curious to hear the story surrounding or leading up to your house burning down and then what that time brought for you.

I had moved to Austin, Texas. I went to college, took on loans, moved to Washington, DC, worked there for a couple of years and tried to save up enough to pay off the loan. I was broke for the first time in my life. I had a few thousand in my bank account tops. I went out on a Friday night and came home. The apartment building where I moved everything to my name was in this 20, 30-foot wall of flames and we lost everything. I had the clothes on my back and I had moved to Austin a few months earlier or something like that. I only had a handful of friends who are acquaintances because I’m not from Texas. I came from DC. I’m from New Hampshire. It was crazy.

At the time, I had also been following the advice of a doctor because I had good health insurance and I was eating as little dietary fat as I possibly could. I was avoiding dietary cholesterol, avoiding red meat, trying to eat low calorie, but still running a lot and drinking orange juice that my doctor said I should do. I was in the worst health of my life. My thyroid was having problems, I was in my early twenties. I was about 30 pounds overweight, high blood pressure, high triglycerides. He put me on a half dozen different prescription meds after going in there for a few months. After losing everything in the fire, I’m looking at myself in my early twenties and being like, “You’re fat and sick too. This is great. Let’s do some work. Let’s make this the project, Bob. Let’s do this one.”

I tried to focus my energy and bring in all the scattered, chaotic energy from your life being turned upside down and not having money to your name and wearing someone else’s clothes and driving someone else’s car. It was the craziest thing because, in order to get by and get my documents again, I needed to have my documents and I needed to prove that I lived at a place. When I tried to get a post office box because the place had burned down, they said I couldn’t get a post office box without a permanent address, but I needed a post office box because it had burned down. I couldn’t get any of the documents that I needed to prove that my place had burned down. It’s like, “It used to be there, now it’s not there. Go take a look. It was down the street.”

You fall through all these cracks. One thing that I learned is that a lot of times when you’re down, that’s when all these creatures crawl out of the woodwork and even the system itself sometimes comes to take advantage of you. You want to think that there’s mercy and that someone’s going to help you when you’re down. Unfortunately, there are a lot of creatures out there that will kick you when you’re down and try to exploit you in one way or another. That was a rough thing to see, not in our own lives to experience that, but also that whole community that lived there. That was another giant loss. I can’t remember how many 30, 50 different families living in that whole unit.

They shut the whole thing down. Everyone had to find a new place to live. Thankfully, no one died in that. They lost some pets but no one died, but that community was basically dead. All those best friends, we would be hanging out one night. I’d go play with the guy on the third floor and play some guitar and then I’d go hang out with the other guy who was watching the game at the end of the hall, that all disappeared. It also helped me realize how temporary all this is. Once you’ve lost everything, I’m not going to say that it’s always good. There’s definitely some trauma that I still need to work through that bubbles up sometimes when bad stuff happens.

You do learn that you have a different relationship with your stuff than you think. It’s not as simple as people make it out to be. Getting rid of everything and having nothing, you’re going to have a hard time remembering who you are if that’s what happens. The things that I missed were the sentimental things. It was the books that my high school teacher had autographed and given to me at graduation. It was the pictures of my friends and family. It was the paintings that would never be replaced that a friend gave me one time. It was those things. It wasn’t anything that was valuable, aside from my musical instruments, which was losing seven guitars and the saxophones. That was rough. Those were replaced too in one way or another.

How did that moment change you as a person at that moment? When you lose everything, where do you go? What do you do? In the time after that, did you notice an actual change within you right away internally? What was the time after that like for you?

UAC 172 | Renaissance Man


I went inward hard when that happened. Fat-Burning Man is the name of my podcast, like tongue in cheek, because I was a fat man on fire when that happened. I’m not sure that I would have taken the path that I’m on if that hadn’t happened. I’m not at the point where I can say I’m thankful for it. It was a rough time for a while. It gave me that excuse to focus on trying to make myself a project and improving that, which in the corporate world and even in the academic world, you’re trained to be a kiss-up. You’re trained to grovel to those in power and what have you.

This was when I was beaten up and at a low. I had that realization. This is on me. If I want to change this, if I want to be in better shape, if I want my body to respond and be better than it is now, I got to do something different. I know that I’m trying hard, but that’s not what matters. I need to try hard and do the right thing. I do a thing that’s more appropriate from physical training, from a nutrition standpoint or even a lifestyle standpoint. For me, I got in shape fast. If everything else was still going on, if I had a cushy job, a nice place, a girlfriend or whatever, it would have been easier to become complacent. Keep a level of mediocrity that I would no longer accept when I hit that bottom that hard.

I appreciate your honesty in saying that you can’t say you’re thankful for it because a lot of times we go through something hard like that and then we always look back like, “I’m grateful for it,” a tongue in cheek. When in reality we haven’t processed it. If we’re honest or aware of it, it’s affecting us more than we would ever admit or even know. Traumatic elements of that still linger and pop up in different ways. I love that you share it that way because that’s empowering for all of us and be like, “I don’t need to feel like I need to say I’m grateful for this when I’m not yet or I’m never going to be and that’s okay.” They don’t fully understand it and that’s okay too.

There’s a lot of weird stuff that happens. Another example that happened to us a few years ago, we were staying at a rental house. My wife and I were asleep and the heater malfunctioned because they hadn’t kept it up at that rental. They also hadn’t installed the carbon monoxide detectors. My wife and I and the dog were poisoned almost to the point of death. It was a rough time coming back from that. Now that we’re years out, you’d think that that’s enough time. I’ve been able to work now. I couldn’t work for a few months, but then I’ve been working for years. I’ve been plugging along and my wife has as well. The hot water went out a few days ago at the place where we were staying and the furnace needed some attention.

When that happened, both of us started shaking. We looked at the arrow button on the furnace, which is gas-powered. We had almost died because of the furnace. We never cared about furnaces in our lives. I never thought about it for a minute before it almost killed me. Now it’s like we’re both shaking, even though there’s no real problem. We called one of our neighbors who’s a handyman to fix it up and make sure everything’s cool, but that stuff lingers. For years after that fire, anytime I heard a siren, I would get a little shaky at first. That would come down to not shaking and not obvious, but it’s still in there. A lot of this trauma is way deeper than a lot of us know but it’s okay.

It’s perfectly normal. You can’t try to squish it. When it does bubble up, I believe you have to take it head-on and let it come out and experience it. That’s how you can move forward. It’s going to hurt, but it’ll hurt less over time. It’ll probably always be with you, this trauma, whatever it is, but you can learn how to focus your energy in a way that’s not damaging. When you do get those shakes because messed up stuff has happened to you, everyone knows that feeling. That’s a great time to go for a walk, to hydrate, to take deep breaths, to play guitar, to journal, to do all these simple things that sound like they don’t matter. It sounds like they’re too obvious and easy to ever do them. No, this is when it matters the most.

Also with that, trying to avoid or protect from trauma ever happening is equally oppressive in the sense of you’re not living. Trauma is going to happen in life and we can either try to avoid it and live an unalive life or we can embrace that. When it does happen and come and bad things happen, we’re able to not shame ourselves or guilt ourselves but accept and love our self for that. It’s counter to how we naturally think about these things.

We need to be gentle and empathetic and open. We’re not encouraged to cope in any way that’s healthy in the West. It’s like binge drinking, watching sports or doing extreme dirt bike races. It’s absurd. That’s blowing off steam and I like some of that stuff too. If you look historically and if you look at our ancestors, they had a much better handle on actual stress and keeping themselves grounded and sane and not flipping out. Many of the things that we’re exposed to that put us over the line now are completely artificial or invented by humans. We stare into artificial lamps. We have these artificially manipulated, social media feeds and Google is feeding us information. No wonder we’re all at wit’s end.

We’re not built to withstand this to some degree. If people can learn anything from that, you got to put your shields up, you’ve got to understand that. Unfortunately, we don’t necessarily live in a world where people will deliver on their word. I want to think that I could trust everyone but you can’t. You’re going to get burned a few times. It’s important to learn how to cope with and navigate that. That’s part of getting older. It’s okay to get older, but I’m trying not to get more bitter. When I get burned or screwed over by someone these days, I’m like, “I’ve seen that before. I’m not that surprised.” The first few times it happens, it hurts. I didn’t learn that in school. I didn’t learn that until I went out there and started being an entrepreneur or you put yourself out there and all of a sudden, you’re exposed to almost everything. If you don’t put yourself out there, you won’t necessarily learn those lessons.

How do you do this? This is fascinating because one of the things I try to emphasize when I talk with people is that younger people should be idealists. You should be because you haven’t lived long enough to have the natural skepticism or cynicism that life brings. Invade too much of that. That’s an important role in our society. We need idealists. As you get older, how do you get older and not bitter? What have you found helpful for that? The more crappy and horrible stuff that happens to us, the more we’re going to get bitter, upset, angry in justified ways. That will then turn us much more often into someone who is pessimistic or cynical. Cynicism is probably the most dangerous of those. I’m curious, what strategies you use for that? How do you think about that for yourself?

You have to get back up again and forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t something that you do one time. It’s an act. For example, I’ve had people who have backstabbed me and then publicly been out there and advertising to me, advertising to my mom. I see that face and I have to actively practice forgiveness every time I see that face. It’s not something where I’m like, “Years ago, you did this thing and I forgive you. That’s fine.” No, I see everything more as a practice. We wake up and we’re not at 100% most of the time. We’re human. We have all these different feelings. A lot of times, there’s a lack of motivation, but if you’re willing to put in the work and keep up the regular practices of things, then you can at least get a hold of yourself.

If you have a hold of yourself, even if I’ve been drunk at bars or whatever, I never felt that I was about to lose it and punch somebody. The more that you try to stay grounded and no matter who’s coming at you or whatever, if you have your stuff together, then you’re going to be all right. You can dodge a lot of bullets and you can adapt to a lot of the bad stuff that happens because you have to know that it will happen. These challenges are here. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be as fun, especially not in hindsight. It’s another way to learn who your real friends are and learn who your businesspeople are. Also, that balance is difficult over the years too. I’ve heard the advice that you should never work with friends or family or whatever. I’ve tried it with friends and family. There have been good and bad experiences. The longer you do this, the more generic advice is like, “Eh.” Everything becomes true.

[bctt tweet=”If you don’t put yourself out there, you won’t necessarily learn those lessons.  ” username=”upandcomersshow”]

Seeing everything as a practice. That opens up so much. That’s well said. I’m curious, what would be helpful for people reading and also I’m fascinated by it because if you look at what you have built and what you’ve created and what you’re doing, it’s an amassed collection that’s wide and vast. People would look at that and say, “I’m not that type of person. That would never happen.” Normal people do these things. You and I and whoever else is reading, we’re all normal people. We’re all human beings. It takes deciding to take that action. That moment from that home burning down was when that first step of like, “I’m going to take action when this happened.” Since then, what you’ve built is remarkable from the outside, looking in that sense. I’d love to hear an overview of that process and the different stages of it and what that looked like because it doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t come from thin air. It does come in baby steps a lot of times, but I’d love to hear you give an overview of that journey.

It’s changed every 3 to 6 months to 12 months. We have to invent a new business. We need to adopt a business and get rid of another business is what it feels. We’ve got to figure out how to do that. I started off as a one-man show and my first real team member, there were a few here and there, but my wife has been working with me and we’ve been together for many years now. She handles more of the day to day and I handle more of the being off in space or theoretical or in front of a camera all day or traveling someplace. Having those two roles is extremely important.

I’ve been fortunate to work with Alyson for many years. Aside from that, the team has grown and shrunk depending on projects. The trajectory that I was following was I had a blog with 40,000-plus RSS subscribers. That’s how people followed before social media. It was much better than social media, but for whatever reason, they punted that one. Podcasting became my main focus. I tried to follow the things that make the most sense, how can we have the most impact? For me, as a musician who already knew how to use a microphone and turn the knobs and all that, that sounded a fun challenge to me. It’s like, “Let’s bring this blog into an interview-based podcast.”

That was 2011. It’s still largely a small team. It’s been a small team the whole time, but then I’ve kept the podcast consistent. I’ve taken a year off a couple of times and done reruns. With over 350 episodes of the show, there is a lot that people wouldn’t have heard or even if they’re hearing them for the second time years later, it’s still for reasons like programming. We did that a couple of times. After the podcast took off, which was 2012, 2013, 2014, I started getting into developing apps with some partners. We had a half dozen different number one food and drink apps. One of them, Caveman Feast, was number six in the whole App Store. Working with partners after Apple takes 30%, after Apple takes all those fees, after the development costs, after the cost of Apple making you redevelop it every 3 to 6 months because they change everything, after redeveloping it for Android also and keeping programming teams, the margins were super slim.

I realized I didn’t want to run a business where I’m doing accounting and where I’m doing publishing for other people who are not clients, but kind of clients. I got rid of all the client-based models, except for the group coaching, which I did, which I’ve been doing for many years, group coaching online for a low price or even free in some cases. That was a business model for a while. I tried eBooks, online courses. I had a New York Times bestselling book in 2015. I did a major TV show on ABC around that time. With each of these big projects it sounds like, “He’s going from one win to another.” It’s like, “No, we went broke from one project to another.” The next big project comes because we need to stay above water.

When you have a team or when you have travel costs or especially software costs for us, hosting online, having a big platform and all that, it becomes expensive. If you’re not able to monetize it every month and then you go cashflow negative quickly. While I’ve been balancing that and that’s not always easy, we’ve also been able to do whatever projects we want this whole time by saying like, “We need another cashflow-based project.” It’s hard for me. I had to adjust to this. I never want to be obsessed with money and that’s not why I’m doing this. I had to balance that with realizing that we lose that everything if we don’t have cashflow. You have to balance those two things.

I would recommend that you never try to squeeze money out of something that’s not a cashflow generator. Identifying the things in your business or the things that you want to do to generate cashflow have been important. It’s taken us in all those different directions. In 2018, we launched Wild Superfoods, our supplement line, to be an inroad to help feed people and get them the literal nutrients that they need, but also make our coaching free as part of that to level up and add more scale. If you have digital products like we did for so long, apps, digital courses, you can only sell those once unless it’s a membership, but those aren’t high priced enough to support a whole team or a whole business.

Being able to add these different things and experiment, see what gets traction and what doesn’t, what’s a good use of your energy. If you want to learn how reality TV works, there’s nothing better than starring on a reality TV show. I learned so much about media, but probably the most important thing I learned is that there were 100 people on staff filming us with all these cameras that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. All these ridiculous places that were super expensive. That show got two million people watching it every week or something and went on for a few weeks on ABC prime time. While that was happening, I was filming my podcast in the bathroom of the condo because it had a white background. I’m filming and doing my podcast in the bathroom.

I realized that the reach of my podcast, which is more than 50 million downloads now, it was tens of millions back then. It’s being recorded in the bathroom by one person while I’m also recording with 100 people that are going to see seconds of little clips on this reality TV show thing with advertising in between. We didn’t have a TV at the time and we didn’t have TV access. We drove more than an hour to a Motel 6 to watch this show. It’s the first time in years that we’d been watching TV and TV advertising in that way. I’m like, “I didn’t realize how far behind mainstream media is.” It wasn’t until I was on that show that I was like, “I am happy to have a podcast and my own video channels and all the rest of it,” because you don’t need 100 people to do that.

There are many things that the perception of them is different than the reality of them. You don’t know that until you experience it or live it. It’s cool to hear stories of people. You have experienced a lot of those things and yet are able to open the eyes or the curtain to say there’s a lot more behind the scenes that you don’t see. That’s true. The worst thing is for people that have this fantastical idea of what entrepreneurship or self-employment or anything like that, of this fantasy idea of it that keeps them discontent with where they’re at. When they finally do make the leap, then it’s way different and harder than they expected. It’s a double negative on both sides.

This is an interesting tension that I would love to hear a little bit more. It’s not being obsessed with money but needing to make money. What you’ve learned from even an entrepreneurial perspective on your journey because you’ve had your hand in many different projects, you’ve had different team sizes. You’ve gone on the wide scope within this realm. One of the things you said that you’ve learned from is never squeezing money out of things that you don’t want. I’m curious to hear what other core principles you’ve extracted from your experience at this time? What are the things that you see to be resoundingly true from that experience so far?

You need to find a way to monetize where you can still protect your integrity and your ethics. That sounds easy, but it’s difficult when you start working with real companies, real people, real sponsorships, partnerships and all the rest of it. It can be dangerous to put yourself on the hook for a company that doesn’t deliver on its promises. I’ve seen a lot of people sell out and there’s a tendency, especially now, to think that if you have a sponsor, that you’ve made it. If you have a bunch of Instagram followers and you have a sponsor, then it’s like you’ve made it. When I was growing up, that was called selling out. You didn’t want to do that. That’s bad to sell out, especially if you’re selling whatever, which is so much of what people are doing now.

UAC 172 | Renaissance Man


If you follow the money, I turned down probably $3 million worth of deals before I ever made even close to $1 million. I continually, as a practice, turn down an exorbitant amount of money for things that I don’t believe in. One company offered me $40,000 for less than one day of work, but I didn’t believe in what that company stood for. I didn’t want them to put my face and name on their thing because I don’t believe in it. How many people are going to turn down $40,000 for less than a day’s work? That’s the thing. As soon as you hear that first part, it’s $40,000 for one day’s work. I’ll do whatever. A lot of people would do that for $500 or $50 a day, depending on where you’re living. That’s the hardest part for people. It’s not being attached to that. I would rather work for a year and work hard. That’s not something that I feel comfortable doing.

You probably won’t have that glaring of example, certainly not right away. I didn’t either, but you’re going to have small examples, even things like during the pandemic. This is interesting. I’ve had a bunch of accounts, companies and whatever say that they’ll offer an exorbitant amount of money for me to post a video of saying something on my social media channels. I was on a conference panel during a conference out of Philadelphia about free speech with someone who was a higher up at the FBI in law enforcement. He’d been retired. When that all came up and the free speech thing happened, it was bizarre talking to someone who essentially says that you’re liable for every single word that comes out. You’re liable for every single thing that you type on the internet, every photo, every video and all the rest of this stuff. At the same time, it’s not guaranteed that when you try to communicate, your communication will be received. Now we have this interception of our own communication online.

That makes all these conversations a little bit more difficult to have. We think that certain things might land, but now it’s easier than ever for everything to be misinterpreted, to be chaotic, for things that are supposed to work, to not work. As businesses, it’s important that we try to stay clear on the things that are working or that could work. Here’s another example. I got 40,000 followers on Instagram and I stopped posting for longer than a year. I realized after reading a little bit of research about it, that the longer that you spend on Instagram, the worse you feel about yourself. The more likely you are going to be depressed. I decided to not post to Instagram. That’s not an exorbitant number of followers by any means, but it’s enough that some people would be like, “I have 40,000 followers. I should post every day. I should sell out. I should get butt implants. I should do whatever.”

In this environment where our communication has been intercepted and manipulated. The algorithm is like, I would have millions of followers probably if I want it to be a butt model on Instagram or whatever and set that up as the profile or do ab pics all the time. You have to ask yourself, why are you doing this? Are you here to make money in whatever way that you can and be an influencer? Do you have something to say? Those are different things. What we’ll find, especially as you see during the pandemic and all this, all these vapid celebrities at their pools saying, “This is hard.”

They’re not giving any actual advice or life lessons because they have nothing to offer. That’s not fair, but a lot of them are not being useful with whatever they’re saying on social media channels or their public persona. For anyone out there who’s trying to navigate this, don’t squeeze money out of the wrong things, but know that there’s always going to be a way. As long as you can find a way of paying the bills, I don’t care where it comes from as long as it’s in your alignment. For me, I’ve been willing to write, play music, do voiceovers, do podcasts, sell eBooks, be on TV shows, try virtual reality and all these different things to see what would work. What are things that are an actual business and what do we have to do to get by?

I don’t mind getting some dirt under my fingernails and going in and doing programming again and going to these different domains from time to time. It’s part of the fun. It’s part of the practice. If you’re going to run a business, you have to come to terms with the fact that you’re putting out fires all day. It’s a whack-a-mole. You don’t get to kick back and make a ton of money and do nothing. Sometimes you do. I tried that. I hated it. I felt like I had no purpose anymore. I felt like if someone else can do my writing for me, if someone else could do all the blogs and they could do interviews or write the books or whatever and I kick back and make money, that sucks.

That sounds great before you’ve tried it. After doing that a little bit, I realized that the most important thing is to have meaning and purpose behind your work. It’s not the do no work. If you can retire at 27, do you think that you’re going to be a great person, if you kick back for the rest of your life? You’re a great example of funneling all that energy into one career and then switching to another and focusing on, “Let’s build this, let’s make this the project next.” When you hear some of these people with these impressive bios or whatever, they do all these different things, it’s tempting to think that they did all those things at the same time, but that’s not how it works. I used to be great at playing the saxophone. I suck at the saxophone now.

I was great in 2015 when I did an album. If I want to be good again, I get back into shape. I’m great at guitar now, but I can’t be great at all these things at once. You have to decide what your mountain bike is. You have to decide what your main thing is that you’re going to focus on. It’s like playing saxophone made me way better at guitar. That makes me way better at singing because I can learn from each of these different things. That doesn’t mean that you need to be on the hook to do everything all the time forever. Letting go of the things that are either no longer interesting or serving you is important and easily skipped over part of the process. It’s not an additive process. It’s a cyclical one.

Now I got two questions coming off of that. The first, what you spoke to before was beautiful in the sense that there has to be purpose or meaning for there to be fulfillment in the thing itself. I’m curious, twofold. What is the meaning and purpose of your work? The other would be, what would you say along the road of the journey so far with all the things you’ve done? What has led to the biggest impact or what has had the biggest impact in looking back? You can go backward on that too.

Let’s do the biggest impact. I’ll go back to the example of being on that ABC primetime TV show because to me, as a kid watching ABC, that’s as big as it gets. If you’re on a TV show primetime ABC, CBS, NBC, it doesn’t get bigger than that until you go on that show and you realize that podcasts are already big. I already had more especially when you add up the other shows that I appear on, not just mine. The reach of all those different podcasts and video shows that we already have as little independent creators is much more massive than mainstream. That was powerful. This is back in 2016 that I realized this. That’s only accelerated.

The illusion makes it feel like that’s not true. It still feels, for some reason, that mainstream and these big channels have more sway, but they don’t. It’s word of mouth. Especially now, it’s trusting these institutions and these mainstream publishing and books as well. It’s movies, books, news, it’s gotten worse. The standards are lower. Following people instead of social media accounts, these NBCs and CBSs and all these. Instead of following those organizations, I’ve been focused on following people. No matter how much they’re censored, they’re buried or the algorithm tries to get rid of them, you can still find people. If you sit down and you write down, “Who do I want to learn from? Who do I trust here?” That presents a lot of promise because we can learn anything if we approach it that way and we communicate as humans. If we try to surf the net, it’s dark these days. What was the first question you asked there?

What is the meaning and purpose that underlies your motivation on what you’re doing now?

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I would say it’s using your natural capabilities, developing them like a craft and then trying to develop those skills and use them to serve others or the world at large to make some improvement. The way that I see it is you can be a part of the problem and get paid easily. That’s how it works. I’ve been a part of the problem working for big companies, working for the government in my early career. If you stay there too long, it’s toxic. It’s poisonous because you can’t fully express yourself. You realize that you’re not living the life that you wanted to. At least I didn’t feel like I was. When you step out of that, it’s a double-edged sword because it’s a lot of responsibility.

Now you have to say whatever you want, you’re on the hook for it. The internet is not kind and doesn’t forget. It takes things out of context and what have you. Your meaning will be taken away, subverted, distorted in some cases, slimed and copied. You have to find some way to navigate that. Maintaining your own purpose, as long as you have your own house in order, as long as you’re doing the work. Some of my coaching clients ask me for relationship advice and I feel like I have zero to stand on. If I’m in a little tiff with my wife, which it happens to us, but that’s usually temporary at the same time because we always get through these little tiffs. The reason we do is we try to work on proper communication.

We try to work on it. We don’t just say, “You’re the problem.” If you approach life, relationships and all the rest like that and you take responsibility, you realize that you will never be perfect. You will never see with 100% clarity. It’s easier to realize that you’re a flawed being, trying to get by as best as you can, knowing that you will make mistakes. Ethics and morality and all that are weird because a lot of times in life, we only get the superficial version of other people’s lives. You look at what they’re doing and it’s like, “I don’t know if I agree with that,” or “They’re doing everything squeaky clean and perfect.” If you look a little bit deeper though, those could be totally flipped on their head in a lot of cases.

You need to personally define what your ethics and morals are. Not necessarily by writing them all down, but being clear on like, “What do I stand for? Am I going to be part of the problem? Am I going to do the work and try to be part of the solution?” You can’t be part of the solution unless you’re out there doing the work. That’s another thing that I’ve learned. When I’ve taken a year to go write a book or even a few months to go do other things, it’s not like people forget about you, but you have to earn their attention back. You don’t get to keep these things that you attain sometimes. You need to earn them every day.

You mentioned about how we have the ability now not to just follow channels, but to follow people. I’m curious, who would you say are some of the few people that you look to or follow to shape and inform some of your own thoughts or perspectives?

I look to completely different domains a lot of the time. The channels that I follow are cryptocurrency, looking into the fiat money market compared to silver and gold. I’m interested in blockchain and decentralized technology. There’s that. If you look at my other most recommended videos online and things that I like, it’s guitar video. Most of the stuff that I’m looking at is working on my craft and then anyone who’s on my show or going on your show, I do my due diligence. I’ll record 6 or 12 in a row over 1 or 2 days. I’ll read a stack of books. I’ll do a bunch of research. That’s how it comes out over time but you have to stay flexible.

This is never going to be the same and it’s never going to be easy and there are always going to be new things popping up. It’s important to realize that too. You can either get dragged down by that, which happens, or try to dance with it. Once you try to dance with that and you use that energy or use that anxiety as fuel for your focus, then you can start getting cool things down. You can get out of a lot of jams. I’ve seen a lot of friends around me make and lose millions and millions of dollars over and over again. You think you’d learn your lesson about the not losing it part after that many times that it happens, but for some people, it’s part of the fun. That’s what I realized. Some of them are doing it for sports and we are too. If you think of it that way it’s like, “This is a craft. This is a sport. This is a game.” That’s more fun. It’s harder to get dragged down if you approach this more like a game.

I want to look back a little bit and forward a little bit. I’d love to hear more about Designer Babies Still Get Scabies. This is the latest book. You sent me a copy of it. I was loving what I read because it’s fun, playful, creative and unique in many ways. Your mom said it best. You’re a great poet. I’d love to hear where this idea came from. What were the process was? You’ve written books, but writing poetry is such a different type of endeavor. I’m curious because I’ve never tried it. For family members on holidays, you’ll write a poem or something but I’ve never gone in, so I’m fascinated by what that process would be like.

This is a funny story. The place where we were living had an elementary school that was quite close. It’s down a little hill. Literally, 150, 200 school buses every morning at 5:30 or 5:15 would start backing up. This went on for many months while we lived at this place. I had no choice. Depending on the time of the year, sometimes they would start at 5:00 AM. Sometimes it was 4:45 in the morning. I’m like, “This is the worst.” That place didn’t have central air or whatever. If we wanted to breathe, we had to have the windows open. You get all the sound from those stupid buses coming in. I’m like, “How can I make some lemonade here?”

I decided to stop drinking and I stopped drinking for a year because if you wake up early and you’re not getting back to sleep, you’re going to feel terrible. I’m like, “I’ll clean it up. If I have to wake up at 4:45 every morning, I’ll wake up at 4:45 every morning.” I woke up at 4:45 every morning for months on end and I played piano and did that for around 45 minutes. I’d practice guitar for about fifteen or so. I would see what wanted to come out. I would write a little bit. Sometimes I would get a poem a day. Sometimes I would get three. A lot of times I’d get nothing or I get a few lines.

I started writing poetry when I was young and I found a bunch of poems from seventh and eighth grade and some more from high school. I realized this is politically relevant. It made almost no sense to me, but I’m like, “If I could have that much fun back then, this is a way I could adapt to the current times.” Instead of going down a dark path with all the political things that are happening in governments and seizing control and the little people having no power anymore, what if we funnel this energy into making fun of it and then turning it into satire? For me, I’ve been writing songs for a long time as a musician, those are poems and some of the poems in the book are songs also.

There are a lot of crossovers there, but I realized that it’s a way that you can make these little time capsules of emotions. It’s also a way that you can diffuse negative emotions, frustrations. You can let off steam and the tension. You can turn it down a few notches by getting people to laugh. I realized that I could practice more free speech if I rhymed and turned it into a silly little limerick. I could get away with saying more than I could in long-form conversation on my podcast or in interviews. There are certain terms and subjects that you have to tiptoe around them not to be censored or not to be distasteful or not to be unsolicited political speak or whatever it is.

UAC 172 | Renaissance Man

I try to be sensitive to that. I never want to stay in my lane. There is no lane, but it’s important to be respectful to other people politically, spiritually with religion. At the same time, when you’re dealing with things and you have your own personal beliefs, it’s fun to play with these different ideas and conspiracy theories and weird ways that people are thinking about things. Poking at it a little bit and seeing if we can make it do something or if we can laugh or if we can let off a little bit of steam by examining these things in a more artful playful context. A lot of times it’s too dangerous tiptoeing online to be playful anymore. Even making a joke can backfire horribly and it comes off as something that you totally didn’t mean or whatever.

Comedy has become dangerous and we don’t want to suffocate ourselves because it damages us when we bite our tongues much, when we’re not able to express what we truly feel. This is my exercise and doing some of those things myself. Even when I was young, dealing with coming to age around 9/11, The Pumpkin’s Poem was more about that. I have a few political ones that sound like they’re written for now in a lot of ways but were based on that. It helped me appreciate the cyclical nature of a lot of this too. I’m realizing that in some ways I was at the max level at fifteen years old. I learned a lot from going through my past notebooks. I was executing and I became valedictorian.

I was playing all these sports. I was doing the lead in the theater. I was playing music and it’s like, “Why don’t adults have these standards?” Even myself, I don’t have the same standards I had when I was a kid. Not even close. How many fifteen-year-old kids are in awesome shape because they’re going to practice a few times a week? They also play saxophone or do competitive ice skating or gymnastics. How many adults are doing these things? We all could be.

I know it is a journey back to our childhood in many ways. What you brought up too is probably why many people love to listen, myself included, to Joe Rogan. Joe Rogan has become a space where these things are talked about a lot more openly, partly because his background is comedy. It makes sense that he is a facilitator for that because he seems grounded and he has a background in comedy. He can make light of these things in a way that’s more approachable. He does a good job with that.

When you look at comedy and satire, what they have to do in order to write that and create that is to take beliefs that they hold usually sometimes close to the heart and then stab it with a knife or poke it until something happens. They walk around it and they prance around these ideas, especially ones that they’re not supposed to talk about. That’s why we need satire comedy and art more than ever because it needs to be okay to say things that sound wrong if you do it in an artful way. AI algorithms can’t be the ones deciding that. They can’t be deciding what’s a comedy and what’s not. When we talk about free speech and free expression, that’s what I’m talking about. We need to be able to crack jokes and not be held accountable as that’s violence and measured in the same way as violence because it’s not. It certainly can be, but we don’t want AI deciding and we don’t want unelected technocrats deciding either. We want to thoughtfully get through this together and it’s going to take some work.

It’s the mess we’ve made in that sense. It’s the unforeseen effects of some of these great tools that we get to use, like this right here, talking to each other over a computer. We were only a couple of hours away from each other, but still, this is such a sweet gift and blessing, but yet there is a dark side. There is trouble or danger or hard things that we have to work through with them. I know you’ve talked about it a bit, but this is something that more people would do well to grow an awareness of. The importance of thinking critically for ourselves and having a better idea that what is shaped online is specifically crafted or structured or even manipulated at times. What do you think most people aren’t aware of in that realm or maybe their perceptions aren’t quite as accurate? What have you learned from your experience that has changed your perceptions of that?

Someone’s steering and you don’t know who they are. A lot of times they don’t have good intentions. They’re steering you. This was the promise too. It would connect to the world. We would have all the information in the world at our fingertips. What we have is all marketing. Look at the priorities of social media and Google. Ads always come first. Advertisers come first and you are the prey. That becomes damaging when we’re talking about free speech and free expression. What it used to be in the promise of even when you look at Twitter and the invention of the feed, it was supposed to be a timeline of your friends, of the people you follow and trust. No longer is it anything remotely close to that.

You need to understand that you do have to have those shields up and realize that you’re being manipulated. In the same way that you’re driving down the highway and everything’s fine. You’re not hungry. You see that big red sign, that big billboard with a huge greasy burger and the fries and the shake and your stomach rumbles. They got me again, then you see another one. This is what the internet is. When you’re checking out in the grocery lane, you see all those tabloids. That stuff is of higher quality than what you find on the internet. That’s better journalism than what social media and the internet has become. It doesn’t have to be this way but this is what it is.

If you want to make it better, then find people and humanize the internet. Build platforms that allow us to connect in a more human and transparent and authentic way. We’ll be fine. We’ll be fine anyway. It’s like Zuckerberg doesn’t get invited to the party. All these people who have burned our trust, all these platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Amazon. All of these platforms, as soon as they burn our trust, and each one of those has burned mine and some more as well. They’ll never get it back. Anyone who is able to build a place that has more trust and honesty and that’s more fun and interesting, they’re going to destroy the rest of these platforms in the same way that I’m never going to trust NBC News or ABC News.

After I was on ABC news and after I was on Fox, I’m like, “I’m never trusting any of these ridiculous sideshow circuses.” There’s zero accountability. What I would love to see is the people who are leading the world acting on behalf of the people and serving them in some way. Even falling on the sword at their expense so that the people are better served. That’s what a real leader does. I don’t mean to be political here. I’m talking in every sphere, health, Instagram butt models, politics, sports, whatever. We need to have good examples for people who are coming up now. That all starts with the daily practice. If we want something that’s better than Facebook, it’s clear Facebook will not be building it. We’ve got to build it.

Once we do, that’s cool. I’ll hop on a social network invented by my friend or even that I heard of from someone that I trust. I’ll do that in a second. There are going to be many incredible things coming online. I’ve experimented a ton with virtual reality and 360 videos and all that. The next generation of technology is going to be a higher definition, such that you can sense people’s presence. If they have weird energy that’s all up in your face or if they’re not telling you the truth, you can see with a greater level of detail if they are for real or not. As technology progresses, as we move away from Facebook and YouTube into whatever’s coming next, we’re going to have that higher degree of clarity, so we better use it for good because it can also be used for ill. It will be more manipulative. It’ll manipulate us more if we let that happen. If we don’t and if we get ahead of it, then it’s going to be incredible for education. Even though we are a few hours away, the idea that you can go to a place virtually or speak to someone virtually is insane.

As long as the grid stays, we have that. That’s here to stay. There are many good things that will come with that. This one-to-one connection, small groups and things that. We’ve still got that. We’ve got that from anywhere. That’s where the real good stuff is going to happen. Most of the best companies come with 3 to 6 people hanging out in a garage or now in a virtual garage is building things on a small scale. Not these giant companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google. They’re not going to be innovating anymore. They buy stuff. They’re going to buy whatever you invent next if you choose to sell. You can always say no.

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Size does corrupt many things. It’s a good word because ultimately, it’s being conscious. It’s raising awareness that there are no free lunches. There’s nothing for free. If you think something is free, it’s not. What’s costing is your attention and addiction, and your future dollar spent towards whatever’s being shown to you.

Your consciousness is being bought and sold without you realizing it. There’s a reason that you see something from your ex-girlfriend or from this friend. It’s because they’re driving you, not because that friend posted and you saw it because they posted it right then. That’s the illusion. That was the bait and switch.

Critical thinking is something that would change much of the environment we see especially in our country at this time. We are being fed by consuming many things, whether it be news or social media or any of that that’s being produced. We’re fed these ideas and narratives and perspectives that lead to us finding ourselves the most divided time that I’ve been alive at least. It’s not anything new. Poetry that you wrote back when you were in high school, it had a lot of the same elements. It’s not like this is novel or new. We feel it and see it more than probably I have ever seen before. It’s simple on an individual level what change looks like. It means we’re aware and conscious of these things. We’re starting to take back ownership of our own thought process, our own critical thinking and our own time spent on what it’s being spent on. Every single human can do that. It takes work. It’s going to be hard, especially when we’re addicted to certain things and elements of that, which isn’t entirely our fault in that, but we have to take ownership always.

It doesn’t have to be serious. It can be playful too.

That’s why I love what you’ve done with that book. What is your hope for Designer Babies Still Get Scabies? What do you see for it?

I wanted it to be an excuse to start the conversation. A lot of times at family functions, that’s the last time you ever hear poetry that’s written by the family. That was something in our family at weddings, at the get-togethers, the aunts and uncles. You don’t have to be a poet to write a few rhymes. It’s fun. It’s the same idea. Everyone should be a singer. Everyone should be a dancer. You’re missing out if you’re not. I’m terrible at dancing. I’m terrible at a lot of these things, but that’s part of the fun. Being weak and bad at something in front of other people while they can be good at it is part of what being human is. That’s the max level in my mind.

It’s important to keep that dance going as well. The serious part is where we get ourselves into trouble. If you put your head down and you keep working, who knows where you’re going to end up? You might make a lot of money. You might lose your wife. You might keep your job. You might get laid off. It seems safer to put your head down and work or do what you’re told. I would argue that it’s not necessarily safer long-term. It appears short-term safer.

Once you grab your fate and you get clear on what you want to do, not necessarily long-term. People ask me what I want to do in a few years, “I have no idea about a few years. Are you kidding?” In the shorter-term, that’s where we can get clear about what we want to accomplish and try to follow these natural cycles of energy to get things done that feel the most right at the time or that you have to get done. It shouldn’t always be this grind or this slugging along, doing the same thing over and over again. You’re perfectly free to live your life that way, but there’s way more fun on the other side too.

That’s a word that I need a lot too. I know my tendencies can easily shift into that head down grind mode.

It’s a superpower. It’s rewarded. There is good to that too.

It’s definitely imbalanced as you’re pointing out well.

We’ll have to balance it. It’s not something you ever figure out. It’s something you’ve got to figure out every day.

UAC 172 | Renaissance Man


Abel, this has been fun. I’ve got a handful of one-offs to end with here. What gives you hope?

The ability to know that at the end of the day we are creating this. We’re co-creating this. We are in charge of our own future to a higher degree than we realize.

If you could teach a class for a semester, what would you teach and why?

How to be an entrepreneur. I went to an Ivy League college and did well. I never learned anything about how to run a business, how to have employees, how to do the books even. It’s not what you’re taught in school. That’s hyper-specialized and random. The practical knowledge of entrepreneurs who’ve been doing this in multiple businesses over time, that’s some cool stuff. You’re going to get a lot of different answers. Some entrepreneurs will say, “Put your head down and work forever. You’ll be fine.” Everyone has their own experience.

What are you most proud of in your life thus far?

The relationships. Especially as the pandemic happened, they shut down all the in-person events. We definitely would have met in-person by now if this hadn’t happened this way. It’s been one of those things where I’ve connected with many people virtually and I’m thankful to be having hundreds and thousands of people, I cannot imagine how many people I know who I have personal connections and friendships with, deep relationships and long-lasting relationships. A lot of them in between, people who I respect professionally speaking, and then millions of people who I’ve never met in my life, who I probably never in my life will meet who I do run into sometimes.

They tell me stories of when they found my work years ago and it was the first podcast they ever listened to or whatever. When I meet people, especially later on, or reconnect with them online, even if it’s virtual now. I talked to a friend who I haven’t talked to in 3 or 4 years. It melts my heart. That’s the best. All these numbers, all the millions of downloads and all the other. It gives you a few butterflies at the beginning as the first time and then it means nothing to you after that. It’s taken for granted, but the thing that never goes away and never should be taken for granted are those relationships.

I’ve seen a few people learn this lesson the hard way and I’ve certainly made mistakes this way too, but putting your head down and working, you can sacrifice a lot of relationships and a lot of the things that you want and that you stand for by making that mistake. It’s important to pop your head up and be like, “Is this what I want to do? Is everything going okay here with my relationships in my life?” We’ve got to all do that a little bit more than we sometimes do. You’ve got to do it during the hard times.

That’s definitely when it counts. What book or books have had the biggest impact on you?

Wabi Sabi is a book about the philosophy that I read in high school. It’s about finding beauty in ugliness, finding beauty in decay, finding beauty in a cracked, old, imperfect cup that was made by someone who isn’t good at making cups. As a Westerner, that was such a weird thing to ever look at or think about. It struck me and I had a wonderful teacher who’s still a good friend of mine who introduced me to that book. I’ve revisited that over the years. Anything You Want by Derek Sivers is another one of my absolute, quick and easy book. He had the option of making a ton of money of building big businesses and all these people trying to get him to sell his business and give him all this money. He’s like, “No, I don’t care. I don’t want to make money.” Eventually, he does sell his company and he donates $20 million to charity. Following the stories of people who have achieved things but followed a different path than what you’d expect are most interesting to me. That’s a great one, especially for entrepreneurs.

If you could study one person for an entire year, who would it be and why?

Da Vinci probably, for the Renaissance Man reasons. Also, the immense amount of creativity that came from it. Some people say that it wasn’t even a person. It was a group of people like Shakespeare. Who knows about history? Anyway, the idea of what Da Vinci stood for and a lot of those other Renaissance people, art is a part of being intellectual. It’s a part of being responsible. It’s a part of being a man or a woman. It’s a part of who we are. It’s deeply spiritual and human at the same time. I don’t know. It’s like you go back that far in time and Da Vinci doesn’t seem commercial to me. You look at everything now through this different lens. Is it commercial or not? Is this going to be big on Instagram? Is this going to be the next big thing? Einstein, Da Vinci, many people in history before that, I have a hard time believing that’s what their goal was. Their work reflects that. Their work is deep. They had incredible skill in a lot of different places. He’d probably be it.

The final question is if you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say and why as a text reminder they get every morning from you?

[bctt tweet=”The internet is not kind, doesn’t forget, and takes things out of context.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

I would say breathe through your nose preferably. I would say that because a few years ago, I met someone who’s become a friend who coaches professional athletes and has been doing that for decades. I asked them, “Is there anything that you find yourself telling most of your clients that gets them to the next level?” He’s like, “Breath, every time.” Almost everyone struggles with their breath. What it is when before you take that big shot or before you do that big thing or right before the moment that you’re supposed to be at your best, you get that shaky tight thing where you’re not breathing deeply. Your heart rate is going too high. If you practice slow breathing on a daily basis, it’s not necessarily the crazy stuff that you know I don’t like, but slow breathing, boxed breaths and things like that.

You do that most days and you’ll be healthy probably for the rest of your life. There are a few things that if you did them every day, it’s almost like there’s enough bleed over. There’s enough extra stuff that happens that’s good. You could do that one thing and the other good habits will become automatic if that makes sense. Never forget your breath. For me as a singer, as a wind instrument player, to some degree I didn’t have the luxury of forgetting my breath because it’s too obvious. I won’t be able to play through the line in the middle of the concert if I don’t think about this and breathe deeply. That was built in but for a lot of people, it’s not. Try to build that in, even if it has to be artificial. It’s worth it.

I want to get better at practicing that as well. Abel, there are many great discussions and topics. I love hearing your story and your perspective. Thanks for coming on and sharing with everyone and being generous with your time.

Thank you for having me.

Where can people find more about what you’re up to? What’s next? We didn’t even get to dive into the music side. There’s so much that we didn’t talk about, but where’s a good place for people that want to find more to go?

You can find me at You can look up Abel James on social media and various platforms. I’m responsive to messages and DMs and that thing. The book is called Designer Babies Still Get Scabies. It’s at We’ve got Wild Superfoods. It’s our supplement line. We have delicious collagen, cocoa, greens powders and other good stuff. For virtual reality projects, go to for that. I look forward to connecting with all you other weirdos out there.

That’s one thing that we also didn’t get the chance to dive into is VR. I’m excited to continue watching to see what’s coming out for you in that. We’re going to put links to all this. Until next time, thanks. It’s been a blast.

This has been fun. Thanks.

For you reading, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.

Following up with one last thing to note. If you would get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the next one. Each edition of In Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once a month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.

Important Links:

About Abel James

UAC 172 | Renaissance ManA modern-day Renaissance man, Abel James is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning talk show host, multi-instrumentalist, and serial entrepreneur.

As the #1 rated Health podcast in 8+ countries, Abel’s award-winning web seriesFat-Burning Man, has helped millions reclaim their health with cutting-edge science, outdoor workouts, and outrageously good food.

When his debut cooking app, Caveman Feast, bested The Food Network and Martha Stewart with more than 1,000 5-star reviews in 24 hours, Abel became the first independent publisher to hold Apple’s #1 food app and #1 podcast at the same time.

A leading voice in new media, Abel was named as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness along with Michael Pollan, Dr. Andrew Weil, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Deepak Chopra.

As a musician and songwriter, Abel has toured internationally, jammed with country superstars, and won several awards for vocal performance.

As a speaker, entertainer, and consultant, Abel has presented keynotes for the Federal Government, lectured at Ivy League universities, and advised Fortune 500 companies including Microsoft, Danaher, and Lockheed Martin.​

Abel completed high school and college in a total of just six years. Distinguished as Valedictorian at New Hampton School, Abel graduated as a Senior Fellow with Honors at Dartmouth College with a concentration in Psychological and Brain Sciences.

Hailing from the frosty backwoods of New Hampshire, Abel lives with his wife and yellow lab in the mountains of Colorado.

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UAC 171 | Unity Reminders


Polarity is based on the premise of dualism, and it is precisely the line of thought that we need to break free from if we are to achieve true unity. As we move on to a new era in American history, we need to be reminded of a few simple things that we can start doing in ourselves to achieve unity amidst difference. Join Thane Marcus Ringler as he gives us eight of these gentle reminders. A quick disclaimer, you are not going to hear about giant leaps and esoteric goals. What Thane talks about here is daily, in-person, real-life work that we need to start being intentional about for the rest of 2020 and beyond.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”171: Reminders For Unity In 2020 (And Beyond)”]

171: Reminders For Unity In 2020 (And Beyond)

This show is all about learning to live a good life. We believe that takes living with intention in the tension. That means living and infusing intentionality into all that we because life has these tensions. There is this side versus that side. In the middle of that tension, we get the chance to live in the messy middle, on the gray daily. The best way to do that is by infusing a reason why into all that we do. We are on a journey of becoming Up and Comers and hopefully, we are on that journey our whole lives.

Being a fellow Up and Comer means that we don’t stop learning and growing. Thank you for being a fellow Up and Comer and joining us on this journey of life. This show features long-form interviews, fellowship episodes, peer conversations and solo episodes. This episode is a bit of a solo one. Before we get there, I’ve got a few things to remind you with. If you want to support our show, we can’t do this without your support. There are three easy ways. I’m going to go backwards to mix it upon you. The first is financial. If you have some extra dollars to spare each month, you may substitute one of those coffees for a Patreon donation monthly to us. That would be a great way to help us pay for the expenses associated with the show, keep it going, and keep bringing you other stories of other Up and Comers on the weekly basis.

We have about over $30 of monthly donations and would love to get that to $100, even $200 because the expenses for this show are higher than that per month. If you could help us out, that would be such an awesome blessing. If you have a company and you wanted to partner with us, please send me an email, as we are always looking for partners that align with our vision. If you want to share this episode, that’s another great way to help us further the word. You can do that by texting this link to some friends that you think would benefit from it or simply sharing on socials. You can always find us @UpAndComersShow on any social platform.

Finally, the easiest way and the most free way of supporting us, leaving us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts or simply subscribing on your favorite channel whether that’d be Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts, or wherever you are subscribed so you don’t miss any episodes. That’s a great way to support but we are over 100 ratings, five-star reviews. We’re grateful for that and be sweet to get over 200 and you can be a part of helping us do that. Thank you in advance.

UAC 171 | Unity Reminders

Unity Reminders: We are all only partially seeing the truth. Everyone is searching for it and grasping it from their own perspective.


It’s going to be just me sharing a few thoughts and shooting from the hip. I am going to go with the flow of free thought on this one. This is something that we’re all facing. I’m recording this episode on the morning after the polls closed. Nothing has been decided at this point. It’s a close race and we’ll know with time who will be our next leader for four years. It’s been an interesting season to say the least. It’ll continue to be interesting for all of us, we all experience this differently and we all are a part of it. I want to chat about it and give some reminders that I’m preaching to myself in this time. What’s funny is for the first time in a long time, we’re going to hear a common question more than we ever heard before. It’s this question of, who did you vote for? Before 2020, this has been a FOPA issue. An issue that isn’t culturally acceptable to talk about. It’s close to home.

You don’t talk about sensitive things with other people. This is one of those sensitive things. It’s often shied away from but this 2020 more than ever before, we’re going to have conversations with people asking us, who did you vote for? I want to dive into that in a little bit. If we step back and look at this year, it has been a crazy year. If COVID hadn’t been a big enough pill to swallow, we’ve added onto our miseries by the state of affairs the election and the political landscape we find ourselves in. My wife and I, we weighed in a bit on how we are trying to navigate these times and the perspective we’re trying to carry.

The Power Of We

What we’re trying to carry is curiosity, empathy and seeking to understand or finding the good in those conversations and with those people. I wanted to share a few of my own thoughts as we continue voyaging into this climatic time of tension and division. You can see the division is clear. Here are a handful of reminders that I’ve been using for myself and that my wife and I have been using together the reminders for unity in 2020. The first is this idea that we and not us versus them. Back to this question of, who did you vote for? What this question is getting at, the heart behind this question that we can all fall into is the heart of, are you with me or are you against me?

Are you on my team or are you on their team? Which team are you on? Help me understand so that I know if you can be trusted or if you were to be an enemy that I try to defeat. This is the inherent problem with that question of asking, who did you vote for? We are trying to separate us versus them. In order to create, we need to ask better questions. One of the ways we can do that is a simple shift of, instead of saying, who did you vote for? We might say, “Why did you vote the way you did? What led to the decision you made in your vote?” We can say, “I love you as a person. My opinion or view of you is not going to change based on how you answer this question. I’m curious, I want to learn and know from you, who you voted for it and why?” That is a much different question than, “Who did you vote for?”

[bctt tweet=”Human issues should not be political issues.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

I May Be Wrong

We all know that instinctively. The goal is we, not us versus them. When we approach these conversations, may we be good at asking, “Why did you vote the way you did?” Instead of, “Who did you vote for?” One is attacking and one is uniting. The first reminder is it’s we, it’s not us versus them. Ultimately, as humans, it’s we. It’s a collective humanity. We need to pursue unity in that. The second reminder for unity that I’ve been using for myself, my wife, and those around me is, “I may be wrong.” This was first brought up by George Towers in the show that we did. I thought it was profoundly helpful and simple that we can use it in any situation or with anyone. The reality is we are all only partially seeing the truth. No one has command over Truth. Everyone is searching for it and grasping for it from their own perspective. It’s amazing when you lead a conversation with this question of asking for permission to be wrong. It opens up the door for an honest, authentic, genuine and open conversation, not a debate. The reality is there’s not a single person in this world that has it all figured out. We will likely be wrong or change our views which is a good thing. The idea that changing your views as a bad thing is ignorant because if we aren’t changing, we’re not growing.

We are all changing at all times. There’s no stagnancy in life and because of that, you’re either growing or decaying. You’re either expanding or diminishing in that sense. You’re retreating or stepping back. This idea of change is a good thing. My views on the world are different than they were a year ago, that means I’ve grown, changed and experienced different things. I hope that every year I can say that. I love Mohammad Ali’s quote on that, “The man who views the world at the age of 50, the same that he does at the age of twenty, wasted 30 years of his life.” That’s a helpful framework that, “I may be wrong. Please, give me the permission of being wrong but this is how I see it now.” With that, how can we have the humility to give ourselves and others the permission to be wrong? The second reminder for unity is I may be wrong.

Human Issues, Not Political Issues

The third reminder that we’ve been talking about quite a bit is that human issues should not be political issues. This is important. I understand that there’s going to be some controversy or disagreement with my views on this. What I mean by that is we get so open arms about our political position on these issues that are in reality is human issues. We need to remove the political nature, the politicism of them so that we can see them as human issues as they are. Things like healthcare, that’s a human issue. I get that there are political policies and approaches to how we carry that out that makes them political issues. In our conversations, I’m speaking to us as citizens and individuals that are our heart and our view should always be to keep these, first and foremost, human issues, not political issues because we’re not politicians.

Even the politicians need to remember that this is a human issue. Things like abortion, homelessness, injustice and racial inequality are human issues. These are human beings that have real lives, perspectives and challenges they’re facing. They don’t need someone to slap them on the wrist saying, “This is the right or wrong approach because of my political party or view.” They need love and care. That is something that we, as individuals can provide, not some political party. To de-politicize some of these areas, within our conversations with each other, it’s going to be helpful for promoting more unity because we can be united around caring and loving one another in these arenas. Third reminder is human issues should not be political issues.

UAC 171 | Unity Reminders

Unity Reminders: Everything is far more complex than we make it. One president one policy, one idea does not solve anything.


It’s Complicated

The fourth reminder is that everything is far more complex than we make it. One president, one policy, one idea does not solve anything. It is merely a piece of the greater puzzle that we face. Everything is way more complex than we make it. I love the quote that, “For every complex problem, there’s a simple solution and it’s always wrong.” That quote speaks beautifully that for complex issues and problems, there is no simple solution that works. It just doesn’t happen and not possible. When my wife and I were filling out the ballot and we were going through it, there was a lot that we had to pause, research, read on, think through critically and still be at a place where we don’t know which route would be better.

They both have trade-offs because it’s a part of complex system, network and inner workings. When you pull this lever, this other side gets affected. For these things that we vote on, issues, agendas, amendments, there are trade-offs with every single one of them. For it to be some simplistic approach that this is the answer to all of our problems that is foolish, ignorant and naive. We have to understand that there is a complex system, a complex network of effects and there are no simple answers. That helps us again, have more humility in these conversations with people that may see something from a different perspective and say, “They are seeing a different side of this complex system than I am and vice versa.”

What Is The Goal?

If we have a conversation and not a debate, we can grow an understanding more nuance that is associated with this issue, system or cause and effect that we’re trying to address. The fourth reminder for unity is everything is far more complex than we make it. The fifth reminder for unity is, what is the goal? This is such an important question because in these conversations, we get so caught up in our perspective or our belief that we forget we may share the same goal. A lot of the times, both sides of the divide share the same goal. They just have a different idea about how to get there. They have different paths to reach or approach that goal.

The conversation can have a lot of unity when we think about, what is the goal? How can we denote the goal and clarify that we’re on the same team here that we’re pursuing the same goal? We just have different ideas about how to get there. Simply by asking, what’s the goal for you in this? What’s the goal for us in this? What’s the goal for this approach or this idea that helps us get on the same page so we can talk about the different paths to get there and critically evaluate fairly with humility? It’s a powerful question. The fifth reminder was, what is the goal?

[bctt tweet=”For every complex problem, there’s a simple solution and it’s always wrong.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

Being Woke Isn’t Woke

The sixth reminder for unity is more personal and a little specific in the sense that this idea of being woke isn’t woke. This is an interesting idea and it’s something that my wife and I have been talking about. You’ll hear some of this language and rhetoric, it’s used on both sides in different ways and there are different titles or opinions. I’m using this one because most people have heard this at some point. There’s this phrase of being woke and that’s thrown around a bit but it’s an unhelpful thing to use. The reason why is because again, it’s delineating an us versus them.

That’s why it’s not woke to even use the word woke. What it does is it creates this dualistic narrative. It’s right-wrong, us-them, good-bad, or enlightened-unenlightened. It sees these categories and it’s one of the most isolating or ostracizing things that we can do by referring to ourselves or others as woke or unwoke. That is one of the most unhelpful things we can do. We need to be aware of how we use language and how we use terms. Even if something were socially or culturally acceptable, I’d challenge us to say, “Is this promoting unity or is this creating a further divide? Is this loving to others or is this creating more hostility, separateness, levels of greater or lesser than within other people and my conversation with them?”

We all do this. This is just one specific example and there’s a myriad of examples where we put ourselves against others and put ourselves above or below other human beings. The reality is human beings are all equal and on the same level creationally by our core identity of who we are as humans. It’s not helpful to operate in these dualistic fashions that doesn’t create any space for differences in perspective, background, or experiences. Just because someone has grown up in a rural place in America and lived there their whole lives, that does not mean that they are woke or unwoke in this instance.

As much as someone that lives in the city and has grown up in the city, it doesn’t make them progressive lunatic or whatever you want to call it that is unattached to reality. Both sides do the same thing to each other so the reality is how can we remove these dualistic ways of thinking, try to understand and create space for the differences in our perspective that are inevitably shaped by our experiences? We are 80%-plus shaped by our experiences, and every single human’s experience in life is different. There will be different perspectives and that’s a good thing.

UAC 171 | Unity Reminders

Unity Reminders: It’s not helpful to operate in a dualistic fashion that doesn’t create any space for differences in perspective, background, or experiences.

Overconsumption Hurts

The seventh reminder for unity is that consumption isn’t healthy, especially over-consumption. This is clear with food. We all know that if we consume too much food, that becomes unhealthy and it can lead to a lot of health problems if we abuse that. Consumption of information is what I’m talking about. Consumption of media and information is hurting us. We aren’t as conscious of it as we need to be which is why I want to bring this reminder to myself and to each other. Consumption isn’t healthy because we are being fed our thinking instead of critically thinking for ourselves. By consuming, we diminish our ability to critically think for ourselves.

A lot of the ways that we can rework this is by simply consuming less so that we can think more. That’s a simple switch, but asking our self, “Why do I see the need to “be informed, up-to-date or in-tune” with what’s going on?” On election day, this is a question I asked myself, “If I check in with the results as the day goes on, does that change anything? No, it doesn’t. Does that help or hurt me in my day? It hurts me because it is a distraction. It removes my intention and focus on what’s at hand and the work that I need to do. It creates either anxiety, concern, fears or worries about the future that I can control anyways. Why would I do that?”

It’s nonsensical to constantly be informed, in-tune or in-touch with what’s going on in our world. We have tools, websites, social media and supercomputers in our hand that allow us to constantly be connected. That is one of the most detrimental things that we can do. To be fully alive means to be fully present and to be fully in the moment of our daily lives and the supercomputers in our hands that we all have addictions to keep us from living fully alive, in the moment and present. It also keeps us from thinking critically, which is even more troublesome. The question I ask is, “This constant drive to be informed, consume news or social media, what does that producing within me?” If we’re honest with ourselves, it isn’t producing good things.

It doesn’t produce good results within us individually and ultimately, it doesn’t help us think more critically. “How can I consume less?” It is a great question to ask ourselves because of what it is producing within us. There’s a quote from Naval Ravikant that I thought was helpful. He said, “Individuals can search for truth but groups search for consensus.” If we consume, a lot of what we consume is on a group level. What the groups are doing is searching for consensus. All you’re accomplishing there is consensus or non-consensus with those who disagree. On an individual level is where we can search for truth, not on a group level. That requires us to think critically for ourselves. The seventh reminder is consumption isn’t healthy because we are often over-consuming and not thinking critically.

[bctt tweet=”Consume less, so you can think more.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

Withhold Your Judgment

Finally, the eighth reminder. This is the one that I want you to remember and myself to remember most, withholding judgment is the key to love amongst difference. Back to what Pastor Rob said, “Unity is only possible amongst differences. There has to be differences for unity to be possible otherwise, it is simply uniformity. Uniformity is not possible. Every single human is different. What our goal should be unity, which is only possible through difference so we can love and appreciate our differences. The way that we can love our differences, give love and receive love amongst our differences is by withholding judgment. The question is, how can we see here and accept the other regardless of their choices, thoughts, or beliefs?”

That is a hard thing to do. I’ll admit it because we attach our identity to our beliefs, views or convictions. Since we attach our identity to it, we then start getting extremely defensive and fearful of losing that identity if our beliefs, convictions or views are wrong, and thus, we must defend them to the death. That is what creates an insane divide among human beings in daily life. We all experienced that and are a part of that in America. It’s clear that’s a part of our reality here. This isn’t anything new. This has been true since the beginning of time. It’s not novel but we are experiencing it more now than ever before in my lifetime. How can we withhold judgment when we talk, listen, converse or learn from others especially if there are differences in our views, beliefs and opinions? By withholding judgment, we can honestly and openly love and accept the other.

One of the best ways to do that, in my opinion, is detaching our identity from our views or beliefs. We must detach our identity from what we think about the way the world should work, what this policy, what this president, or whatever, fill in the blank is all about. We must withhold judgment so that we can love each other in the moment in our daily lives. That’s a hard thing to do but we are capable of doing that. It starts by seeing each other as humans. Those are the reminders that I am giving myself that my wife and I are talking about and that I’m trying to encourage others with in 2020 as we pursue unity. These are somewhat timeless. They apply regardless of the year or season. I’ll run back through them really quick.

The first reminder, it’s we, it’s not us versus them. The second reminder is asking for permission to be wrong, “I may be wrong about this but this is how I see it now.” The third, human issues should not be political issues. We must de-politicize these issues that are human-oriented so that we can approach them with love and care for the humans involved. The fourth reminder, everything is far more complex than we make it. Thus, there are no simple solutions or answers. The fifth reminder, what is the goal? We have a similar goal or the same goal but want to take different paths to get there. We need to clarify what the goal is.

UAC 171 | Unity Reminders

Unity Reminders: Withholding judgment is the key to love amongst difference.


The sixth reminder is being woke isn’t woke. What that means is operating in a dualistic fashion isn’t helpful. We need to create space for our differences in perspective. The seventh reminder is consumption isn’t healthy because we are involved in over-consumption which leads to us losing the ability to think critically for ourselves and then asking ourselves, what is that producing in me? The eighth reminder is the key to love amongst difference is withholding judgment. How can we see, hear and accept the other regardless of their views, opinions or choices?

I hope that this episode could be an encouragement and a reminder to all of us as we wade through these tense and divided times. Every individual, every single person, myself and all of you reading, we each have an individual role and responsibility to be agents of change in bringing more unity. We do that in our daily life in real life, not on social media, Facebook page or post. We do it in our daily life with the people that we interact with, rub shoulders with, have conversations with, see, work with, and can love on in real-time. That’s how we do it. It’s not sexy and these huge giant leaps forward. It’s daily person-in-person, real-life work. We all can do that. Here’s to putting in the work one day at a time and taking ownership and never settling with that. Thanks, and I hope you have an up and coming week.

If you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying. In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to to sign up, and you’ll be sure to receive the very next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released the first Sunday of the month. This is a once-a-month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.

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UAC 170 | Hope Is Possible


In the face of cancer, we can think that all hope is lost. How do you continue to find a reason to keep going, especially when your loved one is fighting for their life? In this inspiring conversation, Thane Marcus Ringler sits down with Deliece Hofen, the President of Braden’s Hope for Childhood Cancer, to share her messages of hope and promise for those whose lives have been affected by this disease, in one way or another, and to live despite it all. She tells us the story of how she went from being a former teacher to starting her own foundation, recounting the events where her youngest son was diagnosed. In the midst of her circumstances, Deliece continued to see life brighter and hope as always possible. She shares that same perspective with us and the lessons pain has taught her, believing that though cancer can take life, it cannot take away how you live.

Listen to the podcast here:

[smart_track_player url=”″ title=”170: Deliece Hofen: A Force To Be Reckoned With: A Woman’s Journey From Education To Foundation, What Her Experiences Of Pain Have Taught Her, And How Hope Is Always Possible”]

Deliece Hofen: A Force To Be Reckoned With: A Woman’s Journey From Education To Foundation, What Her Experiences Of Pain Have Taught Her, And How Hope Is Always Possible

This show is all about the process of becoming and learning how to live a good life. We believe that takes living with intention in the tension, which is a catchy way to say that living with intentionality is the key to embracing the tensions that we face every day. That means having a purpose greater than ourselves and infusing meaning or intention into all that we do. Thanks for being here and being a fellow up and comer on the journey. It’s fun to not have to do this thing called life alone. That’s what we are here for, community and learning from each other. If you wanted to support our show, there are a couple of easy ways that I always like sharing. The first is leaving a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. That’s a great way to help us be seen by more people. Thank you for helping us with that. We’ve got over 100 reviews so far and we want to get over 200. Please be a part of that by leaving us a rating and review. If you appreciate this interview or a different episode, that would mean the world.

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I am excited as I usually am to share this interview with you. I have on the show Deliece Hofen. She is the lucky mother of two boys, Braden and Zach who inspire and keep her grateful, happy and hopeful every day. The Hofen family has had quite a series of events that have required perseverance. Their youngest son, Braden was diagnosed with Stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer, when he was three years old. Deliece is a former teacher and a principal in an elementary school. At the time of the diagnosis, she was a director of human resources for the Blue Valley School District. Braden was given a 30% chance for a five-year survival at his diagnosis. Deliece left her career and began a new career that she would never have chosen, that of momcologist, as she frames it. With the extreme lack of funding the childhood cancer had received, Deliece, her husband and their faithful friends started a 501(c)(3) organization named Braden’s Hope For Childhood Cancer to change those odds by funding research to find targeted treatments to shut down the activators of childhood cancer.

They have raised over $4.1 million for that cause. The organization also continues to work to raise awareness about childhood cancers so diseases can be caught at earlier more treatable stages. Braden had one slim chance at survival after cancer had been repeated a second time and that was to have a bone marrow transplant. There was only one match in the entire bone marrow registry, his then ten-year-old perfectly matched sibling, Zach. Zach donated his bone marrow in the hope of saving his brother’s life. To date, Braden has been in remission from both of his cancers.

Deliece describes her life as blessed beyond measure because it’s filled with love every day. She knows that she is enabled to wish the cancer past and present away, but she believes that with hard work, perseverance and hope, the future can be brighter for the thousands of children, women and men who are yet to be diagnosed with cancer. Deliece shares her messages of hope and promise to others to uplift and inspire them to continue to live despite their circumstances. Cancer can take life, but it cannot take away how you live. I can’t say enough about Deliece and the woman she is.

This interview shines a light on the amount of hope and character that she has as a woman. We talk about so much, including how to develop the mindset of hope, her background and childhood, the importance of curiosity and wanting to grow, learning wisdom from kindergartners, what to focus on in education, facing extreme trials with her family, facing cancer with her son and herself, staying motivated, the work they do at the foundation, the bootstrapping myth, and much more. This is a conversation that is sure to fill you with hope and inspiration. Deliece is a woman who has been through far more than most of us can imagine. Enjoy this insightful and hope-filled conversation with Deliece Hofen.

Deliece Hofen, welcome to the show.

Thank you for letting me be here.

It’s fun to be here together. It’s been fun learning about you and your story of research and diving into some of the references. I’m excited because this conversation is going to be fitting for the time and era that we live in now. One of the things that a lot of people mentioned about you and mentioned as one of your strengths or a descriptor is this idea of hope. When did you first become a person of hope? As people that are familiar with you and your story, most people would describe you as a beacon of hope or inspiration of hope. When did being a person of hope first enter the scene for you and do you resonate with that phrase?

It makes me humbled to hear people say that I am a person of hope because that is truly what I would hope to be. Hope is something that you get through your lifetime. That’s been a mindset that we’ve developed through my lifetime, through my childhood and growing up into adulthood. It comes from the perspective and the mindset from which you grew up with. A lot of that is a credit to my parents, my family, my friends, my church and the community groups I’m involved with that helped to cultivate that whole feeling.

When things in our lives switched over where there were some harder times, some more difficult journeys to travel through, then I had that to pull from. I had that toolset in place in my life that I could draw from to get through that. That’s where the whole thing started. I can’t say that it started when all of our difficult things came into our lives. It started way before then. It’s something that you have to develop. It’s something that you have to consciously be aware of and choose. You can choose to have hope or not to have hope. You can choose to be a person of hope or not be a person of hope. You have to cultivate that continuously and that’s not always easy to do.

The year 2020 has been a year where more people are feeling hopeless rather than hope-filled or hopeful. When you have conversations with people in your life and given the times we’re in, how do you talk about hope with people that are feeling hopeless?

[bctt tweet=”You have to embrace the hard times and negative feelings.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

It is a hard time. There are many changes and many things that are not as we envisioned them being. I have one son that’s a senior. All of the senior things that should be happening are not happening. There is no homecoming. It’s not the same. They’re not going to school every day. They’re doing a hybrid model now. I have another son who has special needs and he can’t go to school at all because he’s high risk. He’s at home learning virtually. Everything is different for us with our world, our ability to work, our ability to see one another, our friends, our families, and even going to church. Everything is different.

In those times, what I tell people is in our experience in life, we’ve had many times where things have been shifted. Things have completely taken out from underneath our feet. Jobs, families and lives have changed. When that happens, the important thing is to keep at the center of your mindset that this is where we are now, but it’s not going to be like this forever. What’s going to happen in the future is going to be a little different than what we had ever thought it was going to be. It’s going to look different than what we thought it was going to look like, but that’s okay. Not everything in life is pre-planned out. We tend to put in our perspective of what we think was supposed to happen and how things should have rolled out. We get upset and sad when that preconceived notion of what the world was going to be like or what was going to happen doesn’t then happen.

Homecoming didn’t happen for my senior, but some kids got together and had their own little FOCO or Fake Homecomings, where they are all groups of kids that were at their houses. There are ways that we can work with what’s been given to us. The biggest thing that I’ve said to friends that have been like, “I don’t know what to do. This is hard. My kids are struggling not going to school. I’m struggling to try to work and keep track of everything.” The biggest thing that I’ve said to them is you’ve got to get that whole what it should be and what I thought it was going to be. You’ve got to put that to the side because it’s not that right now. The more that you hold on to that, the longer it’s going to take for you to get through this. You’ve got to put that to the side and say, “That didn’t happen.”

What now can happen? I can’t send my kids to school every day. We don’t have that here in where I’m at but, what can I do? My kids don’t have the opportunity to have lunch with their friends every day. What we can do on nice days is have lunch outside in front of my house with the kids in the neighborhood that go to high school. They can go to one of the restaurants close by and grab a quick sandwich together. There are still ways for them to get together socially. We just have to be creative and think about ways that we can still do that.

I love what you said there about what it should be is this idea that we get in so much trouble, and letting it go and embracing reality. There’s a quote by Bill Burnett who said something like, “We fight with reality, but we can never change it.” We have to accept, let go and allow it because we will never win that fight with reality. It’s an important reminder that we have to give ourselves a lot. For you, as someone that has seen or as someone that is living with hope and filled with hope, what is it for you a day when you don’t have as much hope? What is that process like for you? What are the reminders or truth you preach yourself?

When I was a kid, we lived in the country. I had horses. We were continuously out in the farm. When you’re out doing things like that, you’re going to get hurt, cut and injured. The first thing my mom would say when we get a cut on our hand or our finger is to stop and let it bleed out because that’s going to clean the wound and get out some of the pathogens that are in the wound. We’re then going to clean it up, bandage it, take care of it, put some Neosporin on it as we go through, and make sure that it heals. That’s a good metaphor for life.

The first reaction that I have is to let yourself be sad and feel that. We spend much time making ourselves try to deny that we are feeling bad because we’re ashamed and embarrassed that we feel sad, hurt, upset, lonely or whatever our negative feelings are. We try to make ourselves not feel those because we assume that since they’re bad, we shouldn’t have them and that’s not true. They’re a part of you and you have to own that as well. You have to embrace those hard times and those negative feelings and say, “I have these. Let me hold those for a minute. Let me feel that for a minute. Let me cry for a little bit. Let me be sad for a few days. Let me go through that.” That’s okay. It’s normal. We should stop telling ourselves that it’s not normal.

After you get through that bleeding part, where you’ve let it clear up, then you’ve got to start bandaging it up. You’ve got to start taking care of it and nurturing yourself to try to get yourself back on track. If you get stuck in the part where you’re just in the negative emotions, that’s not healthy. It’s healthy to feel negative, but it is not healthy to get stuck there. Sometimes we need professional help to get out of those negative emotions. That’s okay. There’s no shame in that either.

There is a lot of this faux pas or these cultural things that are blacklisted or feel like they are not good things, but getting outside help is such a great tool. It shouldn’t be something that is socially not accepted. We’ve come a long way and those things are more readily available and prescribed for good reason. What you’re saying is beautiful in the sense that its acceptance, but not a final resting place. It’s moving through it and not staying and remaining in it too long. That’s a dance and a balance. It’s not a perfect formula. It’s a dance more times than not. Where in the country did you grow up?

I grew up in Western Kansas in a little bitty town called Oakley, Kansas with about 1,200 people. It’s about halfway between Kansas City and Denver, Colorado. We then moved to Hays, Kansas, which was a lot bigger than Oakley, Kansas because they had a stoplight. That was unbelievable. I then moved to Kansas City after that.

You’ve been increasingly growing in size every step of the way. At what age did you move from Oakley to Hays?

UAC 170 | Hope Is Possible


I would have been fifteen when we moved to Hays, and then I moved to Kansas City when I was 30.

That’s interesting increments there about growing up in Oakley, Kansas in the country. What was that childhood experience like for you?

Growing up in a small town is something pretty spectacular. You know everybody in the whole town and everybody in the whole town knows you. Everybody is your parents. You have a life 360 where anybody could track us. If we were someplace where we should not be, the phone was ringing at my mom’s house. She knew about it before I got home. It was a good community where everybody took care of everybody. You felt safe and comfortable. It was a good place to live up.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot more. I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Now that you’re on the other end, which is a much bigger place. This danger that comes in size and scope, we lose some of that relational accountability and connectedness to the people around us. What have you seen in the trade-offs between living and growing up in a place like Oakley and now having your kids grow up in a place like Kansas City?

It’s interesting that we tend to create our smaller communities within a larger community. I feel like we have a smaller community here that is like a little town. My friends are not seeing my kids every place that they go. I do have 360 so that I know where they are, but it’s still the same. I believe people have this drive to feel that connectedness together. You create your own little communities of people, and the interesting thing is in a larger town, those communities of people can shift out and ebb and flow a little bit more than they did in a small town because there was a small number of people to draw from there. There are a lot of people that come into my life that I meet, and then I can continue to develop relationships with those people. Those opportunities were not as numerous in a small town because there weren’t as many people. It’s cool that I get to have that diversity in a larger community.

I grew up in a 45,000-person town, Hutchinson, Kansas. It was not quite the size of Oakley, but it’s a similar experience, especially as Hays for sure. It is such a beauty and a blessing to have those differences and experiences. They expand our perspective for sure. As you think about the ability to embrace change or differences than what we expected, do you think that living and experiencing different cultures, even within one state has benefited you in that? For people that maybe haven’t or grown up in Oakley, in Hutchinson or wherever, how do you encourage people that have a different experience than you in that to maybe embrace change as you have?

A lot of it goes back to who you are in having that feeling of curiosity and wanting to grow and continue to learn things in life. In this day and age, we have many opportunities to be able to do that because we’ve got the internet and all things that we can do virtually through the world where we can still learn. When I was growing up, we had two television channels, and one of them mostly snow and the rabbits’ ears out in the country. That was not broad. The Encyclopedia Britannica at the high school was pretty much resources that we had. We have this immense ability in this world to connect and to learn more information on a broader level. We get things more in real-time than what we used to. That’s the advantage of what we have now is we have the ability to do that. It’s upon us to be able to say, “I want to learn. I want to continue to grow no matter what age you are, and to seek those opportunities out and continue to learn.”

That speaks the power of choice in it. That’s powerful. Your mom had played a role in teaching you many lessons, as well as your dad. I’m curious, what other lessons or experiences or things they taught you that has stuck with you in the years since. What did your parents do for a living?

My dad was a county extension agent. He did a lot of driving around checking crops and talking to farmers. Anytime harvest season was around, we didn’t see my dad for a long time. He would go out and help with harvest crews. My mom was a stay-at-home mom. There were times that she would work. She worked for a savings and loan institution for a while. She worked for a dental office as a hygienist for a while, but she was at home the majority of my childhood. It was fun to have my mom around a little bit. She’s the one that I used to show horses and she’s the one that carded me around for showing things.

When you think about what they instilled in you as a person, what would you say was the biggest mark or piece of advice or wisdom that has stuck with you?

One of the main things that my mom brought to my life is that she was fiery and strong-willed. My mom is Irish. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s growing up, it wasn’t easy for women to be that bold. My mom was a bold person. That was probably the biggest thing that I got from my mom. It was the understanding that just because I’m a woman, it doesn’t mean that I can’t do big things. It doesn’t mean I can’t go to college. I was the first female in my family for generations that had gone to college. Doing things like that, having dreams, and making that happen was a big deal. My mom and dad were different in their personalities. My dad was quiet, patient, kind and calm than my mom. When I was growing up, dad probably taught me more of the patience, sit back, be quiet and listen a little bit more. They were complementary skills to have from two completely different perspectives.

When you were a kid, what was the dream for you as a kid? What did you want to be when you grew up?

[bctt tweet=”It’s healthy to feel the negative. It’s just not healthy to get stuck there.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

I knew from the time that I was teeny tiny that I wanted to be a teacher. I played school non-stop at home. I had my stuffed animals and the dolls lined up. We had school every day. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I went into education and became a teacher.

What was it about teaching that got you going that filled you with energy and passion?

There was such admiration for my teachers that I had as a kid and that made a big impact on my life. I thought that’s a cool thing to do, to be able to take someone and give them some knowledge and give us some skills so that they could achieve great things. I thought, “How fun would that be to be able to give somebody a start and help them to achieve what they want to do in life?” That’s why I wanted to be a teacher. Right after high school, I went straight to college and started my degree in education, and became a teacher. I taught kindergarten and first grade, and then I moved up and taught fourth grade and then decided to get my administrative degree and became an elementary school principal. After several years of doing that, I became a Director of HR in a school district here in Kansas City. That was my professional career as far as education goes.

When you look back on those years, how did being a teacher and even going through the different levels of education at a younger age there grow you as a person? How did your view of education change throughout that?

There’s never a day that you can be with a group of elementary kids and not learn something about life. Kindergarteners will teach you everything you ever needed to know. I’ve often said that being a director of HR in a district with 2,500 employees was like teaching kindergarten. It was the same thing, the same rules applied, just bigger people. Kindergarteners will teach you many amazing things. Two of the things that I’ve learned from my kids is number one, your potential is limitless. You just have to keep pushing that boundary of where it is that you want to go and what it is that you want to do. I had kinder kids that could add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions.

I had kids that could in their heads convert mixed and improper fractions at the age of five. It’s limitless. It’s where you decide. If I had said, “The only thing you’re going to do is count to ten,” that’s all they would have done in kindergarten. Some kids were way far beyond that because they just got that stuff. On the flip side, the kids that didn’t get it, here’s what helps them to get it. You have to sometimes love somebody through it. If you’re willing to invest the time, energy and effort to work with that one person on where they are instead of where you think they should be on, take the strengths that they have, and use those strengths to build their skills, their potential is limitless too. Those kiddos that couldn’t figure out the alphabet and couldn’t figure out how to put sounds together to make words, those for me were inspiring to teach because they tried hard to do something that was hard. Overall, they taught me that you have to be willing to work, and if you’re willing to work, you can do whatever you want to do.

I love how you broke that down because it’s this idea that we were trying to return to the simplicity of our youth, that things that are true for us as children are what’s true for us as adults. We get complicated and confused with the complexity that life brings. When you return to that simplicity of childlike wonder, awe, curiosity, innocence and the beauty of that, it is a lot of our journey as adults. Your role is the same thing regardless of the age. That is a beautiful breakdown. If you look at the education system and your involvement in it, what do you see as the needs of education? It’s the most unique time in education that we had seen in a while. I’m curious to hear from your experiences what you see as some of the needs or changes that could be helpful.

The interesting thing to me as an educator is in education, we always go through these waves of new things. We have to always try and do things, “This is a better way to do the math.” I look at my son’s math stuff and I have no idea why you don’t carry the one. If you carry the one, I could do your math with you. He’s way beyond that at this point. However, it is such a weird way to do the math to me. What education all boils down to is this and it will never change, and this is everything in life. You have to figure out what your goal is and what you want to learn. You have to figure out what your strengths are. What are you good at within what you want to learn? What are your weaknesses that we need to work on so that we can help you get to that goal? What are the tools that we’re going to use to help you use your strengths to overcome your weaknesses to reach your goal? It’s that simple.

It’s simply a matter for educators of sitting down and deciding what it is for that individual kid. You can’t group kids into this big conglomerate of, “You’re all in AP Euro. You’re all going to be doing this one thing.” You have to look at that kid and you have to say, “Susie is having a hard time understanding this concept. Let’s figure out why and then let’s use her strengths to overcome her weaknesses to get her where she needs to be.” It’s that way in life outside of school too. It’s that way with everything that we do. As individuals, we need to be able to do that within our own selves. To be able to sit back, reflect every day and say, “What were the things that I did well? Where did I miss the mark? How am I going to use that to get to where I need to be tomorrow?” When you do that, you can do big things. When you don’t sit back and reflect on that and try and figure out how you’re going to get from A to Z, that you have a problem.

We have to stop in order to move forward. It’s counter-intuitive in that. What a great lesson and framework for the education of reiterating what’s your goal, what do you want to learn, what are your strengths and weaknesses, and how can you use your strengths to overcome the weaknesses? What are the tools to use to get there as fast and efficiently as possible? That simplified framework is helpful. It clarifies the role for teachers who are getting lost in the weeds sometimes because there’s much going on. As a teacher, I’m sure that they’re being barraged with a million things from a million angles. That clarity can be helpful. When you talk about reflecting every day, what does that practice look like for you? When did that first begin?

It began when I was out of college as a teacher. I had some good mentors when I started in education that instilled that reflective practice in me. At the end of the day, I jot down what went well, what didn’t go well, what am I supposed to do tomorrow and how am I going to get there? I even tried to do that throughout the day. I work at a nonprofit. After I’ll do a call with somebody, I’ll say to myself, “Here’s where you did a good job. Here’s where you didn’t do a good job. This is what you need to never ever do again. This is what you should do again.” You have to learn from all of your experiences and try to improve that. That’s always been something that my mentors always instilled in me. Hopefully, that is something that as an educator I instill in my students as they continue to move through life too.

UAC 170 | Hope Is Possible

Hope Is Possible: You’ve got to find a group of people that you can talk with and share your feelings with, who will empathize with you, but also hold you accountable.


It’s attainable. One of the things that is great about reflection or journaling is that it’s just a pen and a paper and a few minutes. That allows us growth and progress. I remember when I was playing golf, a huge part of my personal growth process is sitting down and writing down what did I learn, what went well, what didn’t go well and how can I get better? It is a great simplified framework there. Speaking of educating, one of the things that you educate primarily is with your family. As you were approaching being a mom, what were your hopes and dreams, and what were your expectations of motherhood? What was that experience like for you?

Everybody envisions this model of parenthood where everything is going to be great. It’s all going to go smoothly and well. You’re going to raise the most amazing human being who will never make any mistakes ever. You will never make any mistakes as a parent ever. That would never happen. You have that ideal vision in your head and that goes out quickly. That’s not going to happen. The nice thing is for me, the most important thing has always been, I just need you to be a good human. I don’t care if you go to college, you go to Ivy League, you go to a community college or trade school. I don’t care what you do. I just want you to be a good human. I want you to be happy and I want you to contribute to the world in some positive way.

Sometimes as a parent, you get wound up especially in school districts like the one that we’re in. It’s pretty much the expectation you’re going to college and that you’re going to do your four-year degree. You then are going to do some professional career. Not all kids are wired that way. That’s not success for all kids. There are going to be entrepreneurs that are going to go out in their first two years after high school and they’re going to make millions of dollars because they’re brilliant. They didn’t even need to go to college. They’re going to be kids that are going to become plumbers. We need plumbers. There’s a whole gamut of what’s defined as success. It boils back down to, “I want you to grow up to be a good human. I want you to contribute positively to the world. I want you to be happy. I want you to grow every day and continue to look back.”

There are a lot of frameworks that we can use from this. It’s practical wisdom that has come from a life of experience. You have two sons and had a daughter as well. What were some of the earliest trials like for you? With that, maybe paint a picture of your family now and we’re going to talk about how we’ve gotten to where we are now.

Parenthood did not come easy for my husband and me. We got married when we were 35. We wanted to have children fairly quickly and I didn’t get pregnant right away. It was a challenge to even get pregnant. When we did get pregnant, it was exciting. We were happy. About seventeen weeks into my pregnancy, my water broke. I was in the hospital. I did bed rest for about two months. When the water broke, they told me, “Don’t move and lay down.” I spent about a month and a half in the hospital on bed rest hoping that we could get to a time period where when our daughter was born, she would be old enough that they could do some more medical interventions. That didn’t happen.

She was born early at 24 weeks. She weighed 1 pound and 9 ounces. Her lungs were too underdeveloped to survive. There wasn’t enough that they could do to help her at that point. We had Miranda for about fifteen hours and it was the most beautiful and awful fifteen hours of my life. We spent our time saying hello and goodbye to her. I always looked back at that and I think how blessed and lucky were we that we got to say hello and goodbye. I’ve also had two miscarriages. Those were babies that I didn’t even get to say hello and goodbye to. We got that opportunity with Miranda. While it was hard and it was not something that was without pain, there was some beauty with it. There was a lot to be grateful for in I will always be Miranda’s mom. She will always be my firstborn. She will always be my daughter. She will always be our family. We will always talk about her.

That’s how our parenthood started. After Miranda died, I didn’t want to have another baby. I was like, “I can’t do that again. That’s too hard. It’s too much.” We got pregnant and that’s when I had my first miscarriage. I’m like, “Seriously, I told you I’m out. I can’t do this again.” We then went ahead and tried again. That’s when we had our first son, Zach. He was healthy and awesome. He’s the one that’s a senior now and graduating. After Zach, we had another miscarriage, and then we had our son Braden. He is a sophomore in high school now. He is our little guy that has autism, which was another wrench. These are all things that you don’t expect to happen. I figured that after one bad thing happened, the rest would be okay. That did not happen. Things were like a rollercoaster for us along the journey.

Thank you for sharing. Going back to that early period, these experiences are way more common than we ever expect. We don’t know until we’re often in them. What was that like for you when you aren’t able to get pregnant? That is common that we don’t hear about it. The same with miscarriages, there’s way more commonality in that than we would ever expect. Usually, we don’t find out until we go through it. How was that going through it? Did you feel like you were able to talk about it? Did you feel supported in that? What were those experiences like for you? As a mom or anyone, that’s crushing. I’m curious how you and your husband got through that.

Even now, it is something that is not that talked about. People don’t talk as much about infertility. They don’t talk about as much about miscarriages. I don’t know why we don’t do that other than there must be something in ourselves that says, “It’s hurtful. I’m ashamed that it happened because I feel some onus.” As a mom, it’s my body. I feel some onus that I couldn’t carry those two babies that I miscarried. There’s that guilt with it. Maybe it’s those negative feelings that keep us from talking about it. There are support groups out there. I did not use any of those support groups. I have some amazing friends and my friends were my cornerstone of strength for all of that. They were there for me and were my shoulders. They helped me get through all of that.

The nice thing is that a couple of my friends are psychologists, so it was good advice that they had for me. It was a hard, lonely and isolated time. There is some degree of you don’t talk about that stuff. You’ve got to find a group of people that you can talk with and you can share your feelings with who will empathize with you, but also hold you accountable for coming back out of that sorrow and not let you stay in that sorrowful place. If you need help, they’ll help you get the help.

You are hitting the nail on the head about that shame and guilt we feel often keep us from talking about a myriad of things. I can see that being a big part of that as well. As you shared, there are many hardships that you and your husband and your family faced in this journey. There comes a point where you’re thinking, “This is the end.” I’m curious at what point was that low for you? At what point was it that you were like, “I can’t get beneath this rock bottom place?”

When Braden was about eight months old, he was playing with the shape toy. It was one of those where you put the square in the square and the circle in the circle. I noticed as he was doing that, he was competitively putting the shape back in and watching to see it land into the toy. He was perseverated on that repetitive action. Immediately my education background went, “That’s not a normal thing.” I became concerned. I called in a couple of my friends who work with autism and had them come over and do some watching to see. They were like, it’s early to diagnose if a child has autism in eight months. Braden was also a very social kid, but it’s entirely possible.

[bctt tweet=”There’s still a lot of life out there to live.  ” username=”upandcomersshow”]

We started interventions with Braden as if he had autism. We wouldn’t get him diagnosed with autism until he was eight because we had a few other bumps that came along the road in the meantime. The autism was something that I was like, “That’s not how I envisioned life happening. I envisioned him moving out, living on his own, having a family and children.” That was another time that I had to say, “Let go of that preconceived notion of what life is like. Let’s embrace what this new thing is and let’s find a beauty in that.” We got through that.

When he was three, he was diagnosed with cancer. The type of cancer that he has is called neuroblastoma. It is a lethal kind of childhood cancer. He was given a 30% chance for five-year survival. That was a hard thing to hear with this little guy that had started life and already had some challenges ahead of him. We started cancer treatments. We were in the hospital for a year and a half doing treatments. We lived there at the time Zach, who was the older of our sons, was four. He was at home and doing preschool with Brian. I’m down at the hospital with Braden and we’re living two separate lives. We’re like, “This is hard. This is going to be the end of it. This is the toughest thing, but we’ll go through this. We’ll come out of this and we’ll be fine.” We got through that and he was okay. We were like, “He’s okay.” We went back in for scans and his cancer had come back. Relapsed neuroblastoma comes with no known cure. His odds fell to less than 10%, which were the odds that our daughter Miranda had. At that point, I was like, “How does it get any deeper and darker than I’m going to have two children that I’m going to disgrace for?” That’s the reality that we’re looking at.

We didn’t give up hope and we continued to find some crazy things. We tried some ridiculous trials like Phase-1 kinds of studies. In Phase-1, the only thing that you’re doing is seeing if the drug itself is going to kill you. That’s what a Phase-1 is designed to do. We did it because there was nothing else. We did compassionate care access trials, which if we don’t do this, we’ve got nothing and he will die. We started those things. Along that journey, about three months after he was diagnosed with his cancer, I got diagnosed with breast cancer. That was the moment that I was like, “This is too much.”

I have a strong faith and I fell down on my knees with my hands up and said, “Lord, I can’t get through this. I need for you to carry me through this.” I leaned hard on my faith and on God’s love knowing that it is hard. I’ve got to give some of that to God and I’ve got to let him carry it. I have to let him help me see the blessings along the way because if Braden’s life was going to be short, I needed every minute of that life to be good, happy, awesome and wonderful. I didn’t want him to not have experiences in life and I didn’t want him to miss out on things. While we’re both going through chemo, when I’m feeling like I’d like to have a nap, he wanted to go to the park. I don’t know if the next day he’s going to feel like going to the park. I got up off the couch and we went to the park or the Pumpkin Patch or wherever it was that we went and we did things.

At that time, he was five. This little five-year-old boy taught me more about life and more about how to handle hard things that any human being ever will teach me. With the autism, he didn’t know that he had cancer. He didn’t know he was supposed to die. He didn’t know that they were throwing things in his body that nobody had ever tried and then he was going to feel bad. All he knew was, “I don’t feel good. Probably everybody feels like this so let’s go to the park.” That’s what we did. His lens and his perspective of life are what led me through, “God, I’ve got to give you this part and I’ve got to focus on this part.” His autism turned out to be a tremendous lesson and a tremendous blessing for us. It taught us that we have many preconceived things in our heads about how we should feel and how we should react and how we should do life. If we let that go and focus on what we still can do, there’s a lot that we still can do even if we don’t feel that great. Even if we’re sad and feel like all hope is lost, there’s still a lot of stuff that you still can do. There’s still a lot of life out there to live.

It is incredibly humbling to hear what you guys have gone through. It’s remarkable. I can’t imagine a much lower place to be in what you shared. In that process, in those moments where you’re at your wit’s end, and you’re at this place where you’re having to care for yourself when all you want to do is care for your son, what do you learn about the meaning of life and our role in it in those moments? We all get wrapped up in what we think life is about, what is going on, and what we feel like our responsibilities or duties are that we miss what it’s about. I’m curious to hear in that moment what that was for you.

We do and that’s exactly what happens. Something happened that set my mind on that track early on. We were downtown for treatment for one of his rounds of chemo. He was in the hospital and his last chemotherapy finished at 10:00 at night. They were like, “You can spend the night or you can go home. We got a few days at home. We’d get maybe 3, 4 or 5 days a month at home that I was like, “We’re going home. We’re out of here.” He was at that point on feeds through an NG tube. I hooked him up the feeds on the clip where you hang the laundry. I got him in his car seat and I’m getting ready to drive home. The road that we take to get from the hospital to our house was closed. There was a detour and we had to go around.

I’m upset because I want to get home. I know that those feeds are going to run out and it’s going to start beeping at me. I’m going to be stuck on the highway with these feeds beeping at me. If I don’t get it cleared out, it’s going to get clogged. I then have this NG tube that’s clogged that I got to figure out how to get unclogged. I was like, “This cannot happen at any worst time. It was not going to be good.” I’m taking the detour. I’m in a bad mood, I am mad, I’m angry at the road, I’m mad at the people who created the roads and all of the cars which there were not many.

We got down through this detour and it took us past this place in Kansas City called Crown Center, which is always at the holidays. It was completely lit up with lights. There are the coolest water fountain features down there. It took us down through the center of that and all I’m thinking is, “I don’t know how to get home from here. I don’t know how to get back to the road from where I am here.” I hear Braden in the back of the car, “Mommy, the lights and the water.” He’s bouncing in his car seat, clapping his hands and screaming because he’s happy to see all of this. I took this breath and I stopped. I looked and there was nobody around. I pulled a U-turn in the middle of the road and went back past it so he could see it again. He’s even happier this time.

I did 5 or 6 U-turns so that he could see all of this beautiful stuff and we drive slowly past everything. I noticed out of the corner of my eye, something was moving and I looked over and there’s a bus stop right over the corner. I happened to catch the eyes of some of the people at the bus stop. I’m bawling, crying, clapping and laughing because he is in the back, but they can’t see him. All they see is this crazy woman spinning circles, clapping and crying. What that taught me is life is going to take you on some detours. It’s going to take you on unplanned detours that you’re not going to be happy about. What you can do is you can find the beauty in those things. You can find happiness in those things.

You have to stop and you have to make yourself take a breath. You have to embrace it. You have to go with the detour. When you go with the detour, there’s much beauty, happiness and joy. Sometimes going against the flow is the way to go. Sometimes go with the flow and let it take you. When we would be out driving places and he would see a park that we’d never been to before, we’d pull over and stop at the park. It’s not planned but we do it. To this day, if we go through a crossing where there’s a train that’s coming by and we beat the train, we turn around and go back so he can see the train because he loves trains. It’s about the detours in life. It’s about embracing those detours and being willing to sometimes let life take you down a little bit different path, but see the beauty in the path.

UAC 170 | Hope Is Possible


That’s a message that everyone to some extent can relate to in all of life especially in 2020, as we’ve all had a lot of detours going on. That’s a beautiful story. As you’ve been sharing, I feel like people that grow up and experience autism often are the ones that are living the truest lives. I remember a girl in my high school named Kylie who was known by everyone in the school. This was a big high school with 1,600 kids. Every person knew Kylie and she never met a stranger. She wasn’t afraid to talk to anyone. Yet, she still had the nerves of talking to the cute boys or all the things that are known, but there wasn’t this cultural, sociability, acceptability norm in place. It was freedom of full expression and feeling in those moments. We miss it with this cultural appropriation that we start assimilating into. We miss the simple joys of being authentically ourselves. Have you seen that with Braden? What is your experience with raising a child that has autism been like?

That’s exactly what it’s like. They don’t have the same limits and fears that we do because if we do that, some are going to look at us and be like, “You are weird.” That is not the way we do things. That is not the social norm for how we do things. One of the beautiful things about people that have autism, and there are many people and many kinds of things, but it is to remove that social norm and to be willing to step out of that social norm to show happiness. Honestly, that’s one of the things that Braden has taught me in life. It is to show you are happy. It’s okay if you look weird, just show happy because people react to happiness. People love happiness.

It takes down that wall for the people that you’re with. They don’t feel like they have to keep their serious wall up of, “I can’t do that because that would not be socially okay.” Especially high school kids do this. Everything in high school is embarrassing. To be able to have somebody that can show you that true emotion and not be apologetic about it is a refreshing, cool, awesome, wonderful thing to have in life. People respond to that because they’re like, “I wish I could be more like that. I wish I could be more unapologetically me.”

The answer that we all need to hear is you can, but it’s hard to live that way, to return to that childlike wonder and living as your true self. In some of the call I did, you were described as a force to be reckoned with in terms of pediatric care funding and awareness. I’m curious if you ever imagined that being a descriptor of yourself and maybe giving people the story of how that came to be.

I would go back to my mom on that. Remember when I described her as an Irish woman who was stubborn and fiery. I’m a good human. I would like to be nice to people, but there have been things along our path in our journey with treatments where numerous times doctors and even pharmaceutical industries have said to me, “No, that can’t happen.” I’ve pushed back and said, “Why can that not happen?” “Here are the reasons why I think why not.” It’s because of that, they listened. They were like, “That’s a good case that you put together there. Let’s give that a shot.” All those times that we tried all of this crazy stuff for Braden, we were out there on a limb.

After Braden and I went through our cancer at the same time, we went through about two years of nice quiet. He was diagnosed with a secondary form of leukemia. We sat in this meeting with our oncologist and she said, “Nobody has ever survived the secondary form of leukemia after neuroblastoma.” Here’s why. The treatments that he’d had been toxic that they deleted one of the chromosomes in his DNA. They took a chromosome out. I don’t even know how that happens, but it deleted one of the chromosomes in his DNA. The problem with Braden having relapsed neuroblastoma and then having this deletion of this chromosome is that if there is even one neuroblastoma cell in his body when we go to fix this chromosome deletion thing, we have to knock out his whole immune system. By knocking out his immune system, we then allow the neuroblastoma to come back.

When you knock out his immune system, we can give him new DNA. We can give him donor DNA. It’s called a bone marrow transplant. When you do that, you have to have your immune system knocked out or your immune system would reject those cells. Our choice was this. We can do nothing and in about six weeks, Braden health then dies because the secondary leukemia kills him, or we can try to do a bone marrow transplant, knock out his immune system, and then the neuroblastoma comes back and then the neuroblastoma kills him. The question that they had was, which way do you prefer for him to die, neuroblastoma or secondary leukemia?

He was not done fighting. We said, “We want to try the path of hope.” We tried again some crazy things to try to knock down his leukemia cells to zero. They told us at a time, “You’re not going to get there, but if you get there, the chances that this bone marrow transplant would work is none.” Nobody’s ever survived. It’s never been done before. We got lucky and his leukemia cells went down to zero. We found a perfect match for his bone marrow. The perfect match was his brother Zach who was ten at the time. Zach donated his bone marrow, which is a big deal because he is donating bone marrow to save his brother’s life knowing that it’s not probably going to work. He’s not probably going to live, but he did it. I’m proud of my son for that.

We did the bone marrow transplant and Braden is several years out of transplant and doing well. He is past that five-year survivorship mark. He’s the one who has made it so far. You have to be a person who looks at a no as a maybe, instead of no as a stop. The no had to redirect me into figuring out what other things we could do. We’ve turned that into a childhood cancer organization where we fund research for targeted treatments of childhood cancers. We funded about $4.1 million in cancer funding so far to help all children so that when they hear that they have cancer, their treatment option isn’t, “You have no known here. There’s nothing that we have for you.” We’ve been able to help open some doors for some kids and create a difference. I will tell you that you can’t do that as a silo of one. You could be a silo of one that says, “I want to make a difference, but I don’t know what I’m doing.” You then have to have this huge network of beautiful, amazing people that join in and say, “We agree. That’s not okay. Kids should have a chance to live.”

I did not know how overlooked and undefended childhood cancers were. I thought cancer funding was just cancer funding. I didn’t know that all childhood cancers combined got less than 4% of the National Institute of the House budget for research. Breast cancer alone got 12%, but all childhood cancers combined got less than 4%. I’m grateful for the breast cancer funding because it benefited me, but we got to do better for our kids. We have this amazing community here that is helping to make a difference for these kids because people care. People are good. People want to make a difference. People want to be able to bring hope to these kids. I will say that the stubborn part started it, but then I got joined by this whole army of incredibly stubborn people who also said, “We are not going to let this just be status quo.”

That is powerful. Try the path of hope, what a great word and story. I’m inspired by hearing it. Like anything, from the outside looking in, there are a lot of foundations out there. There are a lot of people running nonprofits. I’m like, “Lots of people do it. It can’t be that hard. It can’t be that tough of a thing to do,” but then we dive in and it’s like, “How does this even happen? How is it even possible?” Especially when you come up against this space where it’s drastically underfunded like childhood cancer. Deciding to do something about it and doing something about it takes immense work and effort. As you’ve gone down this path of founding Braden’s Hope and working on raising over $4 million, which is amazing. I’m sure this journey parallels to what we’ve heard so far. There are a lot of moments where it seems like, “I’m not going to be able to do this.” Can you share a few of those moments in the journey of the foundation where it was beyond your pay grade like, “I had no idea how to do this and I don’t think there’s a path forward?” What was that process like of starting a foundation?

That was day zero for me. I’m an educator. I don’t know anything about starting a nonprofit. I said to my friends, “I don’t know how to do this. I have no idea how to do this.” That’s when all of my friends said, “We don’t either, but we’ll help you find the answers.” People started making connections with people and helping us figure out how to do it. I have a neighbor who’s an attorney. I called her and said, “I looked at this 501(c)(3) application paperwork. I have no idea what they’re saying. Can you help us?” She was able to help us get connected to people that can help us with the 501(c)(3) paperwork. It’s been like that all along.

[bctt tweet=”Life is going to take you on some detours that you’re not going to be very happy about. What you can do is find the beauty and happiness in those things.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

Because I have such a strong faith, I feel like this is an example of how the church works. The church isn’t four walls that you go to every week. The church is the world and the people in the world that reach out to make a difference and help and propel us forward. This for me has been the living, breathing church. This has been the arms wrapped around us with people saying, “It’s okay, that you don’t know. It’s okay that you mess that up. We know how to help you fix it. We know how to help you make it better. Let us help you.” I feel God’s love wrapped around us in the work that we’re doing because there’s been this tremendous outpour of the community from everybody wrapped around it.

I was thinking of this early when you’re talking about it because in America, especially in the Western World or in the modern-day, there’s this idea of bootstrapping myth. The whole goal is to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and become a self-made success or whatever the buzz words are. What your story and what it’s highlighting is a reality that it always relies on the gifts of other people. Was that a challenge for you personally? Was it already past that point when it came to the foundation? I don’t know if that’s necessarily natural for us.

I love the bootstrap analogy. That’s a good analogy because we do. That’s on us because we expect ourselves to be able to do it, “I should be able to pull myself up. I should be able to do this. If I don’t know how to do that, then either I have to learn or have to say that’s not something that I can do.” As an educator and it all goes back to the education background, my whole life has been, “If you don’t know what you’re doing, raise your hand and I will come to help you.” That’s all you have to do. Sometimes kids aren’t willing to raise their hands. Sometimes you have to look at kids’ faces and figure out, “You are stuck with that. Let me come and help you.”

There are two ways to do that. I’m a person who does not have a problem raising my hand and say, “I’ve got nothing. I don’t know how to do this.” That for me has never been a problem. Some people have a hard time raising their hand. Even if I hadn’t been that person, I already had this amazing community of people that could see my face and were willing to come in and say, “Clearly, you’re a little lost, aren’t you? Let me help you figure out what it is that you have to figure out.” Truly, it has been a humbling experience to get to see the amount of compassion and caring that people have and the willingness that they have to pour in to try to help.

“Raise your hand,” I love that analogy. I need to hear this as much. Often, I need to raise my hand and I don’t. I definitely can grow a lot in that. It’s $4.1 million already raised and it’s only been nine years.

We have been in about nine years. We’re getting ready to start our tenth year. We did not fund anything new in 2020, but we’re looking at doing twice the funding in 2021. We’re doing $1 million level grants this 2020.

No one saw that hiccup coming. As you sit here now, what are you most proud of thus far and what are your hopes for the future?

What I’m most proud of so far is having had the opportunity to live this life where I’ve been able to draw on many other people to help grow, learn, do things and become better. I’m grateful that I had a family that taught me the importance of doing for others before you do for yourself. I am grateful that I’ve had friends that have taught me, live and breathe that same lesson, people in their hearts that do for others before they do for themselves. What I’m most proud of is the community that I live in, my family and my friends are all people who show that selflessness and willing to give and help others and live for others. That’s the thing that I’m the proudest of, that I get to live that way.

As you look ahead for Braden’s Hope and what the foundation is going to continue doing, what do you see as the future hope for the foundation?

What will happen with Braden’s Hope is we’ll continue growing bigger and be able to help more with research and more in-depth, even bigger and broader research studies than what we’ll be able to fund so far. A million-dollar study is a big deal. That’s a large-size study, but what would it be like if we could do a $10 million study? What would that bring to kids with cancer? The sky is the limit for the impact that we can have. The goal is that hope is the answer and that’s what we want kids to have. There are still childhood cancers that when you’re diagnosed with them, it’s a terminal diagnosis. DIPG is a brain tumor type. When you’re diagnosed with DIPG, there’s nothing. They know that you’re going to die within six months to a year. A year is a long time for a kid with DIPG.

That’s not okay. There should always be something that we can do for treatments. That’s the way life should work. You should have treatments available for you. We don’t ever want families to hear, “No known cure.” That’s what we’re working for. We won’t see the end of cancer in my lifetime. I hope that in my lifetime or my children’s lifetime, we’re going to at least here, we might not have the exact right answer yet, but at least you’ve got some things that we can do and some things that we can try that are more targeted, that aren’t going to delete the chromosomes because they’re toxic.

UAC 170 | Hope Is Possible

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t

When you’re going through in your daily life and all the things that are on your plate as a mother, as involved in this foundation, as a wife, what is it that motivates you? How do you stay driven? One of the things that a lot of the references mentioned is that they are curious to hear how you keep going, how you stay driven and motivated with many things on your plate. Having endured many things already, how do you keep that drive up?

The things that we’ve gone through are the fuel for the fire. I don’t want other people to go through that. I don’t want other people to have to go through the same things. My goal would be let’s prevent that from happening. Let’s keep people from having to go through that unknown, that pain and the anguish. For me, every day when I was a teacher, what kept me going were the faces of all of those little people that I got to see every day, walking down the hallway, and getting mobbed by this whole great big line of kids and getting tackled. That’s why I did what I did. That was what made every minute of every day worthwhile is that connection.

Though I don’t get to see our kids with cancer every day, especially right now in a COVID world, they are the faces that I have in my head and in my heart every day as I work. I reflect and pray for those kids every morning. Those faces and those stories motivate me to keep working because somebody’s got to do something. I remember in the hospital saying to myself over and over, “Somebody has got to do something. Why is somebody not making a difference for these kids? It then dawned on me that I am somebody.” That’s what keeps motivating me is I’m that somebody. It’s like in the Starfish Story where a boy on the beach is picking up the starfish and throwing them back in one at a time. Somebody comes by and says, “Why are you doing that?” He’s like, “They’re going to die if I don’t throw them back in.” The person says, “There are thousands of them out here. You can’t save them all.” The kid throws one back in and says, “I made a difference to that one.” That’s what keeps me going. It’s the hope that what we’re doing is going to make a difference to somebody along this way.

There are many people reading this and maybe for the first time are realizing that, “I am somebody. I can be that somebody.” That is a human experience that when we see a problem, “That should be different. There needs to be changed here. I want somebody to change this.” There’s that light bulb moment that, “I am somebody. I can play a part in being the change in that environment or situation.” Maybe this conversation your reading is that light bulb. How do you encourage someone that maybe that light bulb went off and they’ve been thinking about this area of change that they’ve seen in their life for a long time? They’ve wanted it for a long time and nothing has moved and nothing has happened, and now the light bulb goes off. What are the stepping stones or what is that next step that at that moment can be taken?

It goes back to what we talked about. You’ve got to set a goal. You’ve got to figure out, what it is that I want to do? I’m going to use my strengths. I’m going to address my weaknesses and how I’m going to create a plan to get there. You’ve got to raise your hand and ask for help. You have to have somebody help you along. We can’t get through life alone. If we did, it would be a horrible thing. You have to rely on other people. Even if you did try and get through life alone and you did okay, it wouldn’t be as rich and your answers wouldn’t be as good. You’ve got to raise your hand and ask for help. You shouldn’t raise your hand and get help from people who think like you and agree with you. You have got to find a diverse group of people who think differently than you think because if you never have anybody challenge your thinking and set you back and make you revise what it is that you’ve been working on, you’ve never challenged yourself far enough. If you’ve never gotten to know or if you’ve never gotten to, “That was wrong,” you’ve never challenged yourself far enough. That is a critical piece.

That’s huge. Diversity of thought is massive and we are naturally opposed to it, which is why it’s even more important because otherwise if we don’t choose it, we’re never going to have it. Deliece, this has been fun. It is an inspiring conversation and hope-filling. I already feel lit up with inspiration from this time we’ve shared. I can understand why that was the most common theme among everyone that knows you. We could talk forever but life does go on. I know you have a lot on your plate. We’re going to end with a few one-offs here. They can be as short or as long as you’d like. What question do you ask yourself the most?

The question that I asked myself the most is, what am I grateful for? Going back and deciding what you’re grateful for helps you have a positive mindset because you can be in a bad day, in a bad moment and in a bad situation. If you make yourself say, “What am I grateful for?” and boil it back down to that. I keep a gratitude journal every day. I write down what I’m grateful for. That’s the most powerful thing that I ask myself every day.

The next question is, if you could study one other person for an entire year, who would it be and why?

I would study the pastor at our church. I believe he is a good human being. His name is Adam Hamilton and he has a way of framing things and thinking about things in an inclusive way of embracing God’s love for everyone. I would love to spend any amount of time trying to get inside his head and his part.

What book or books have had the biggest impact on you?

This is an old one. The book Good to Great was a good book for me at the beginning of my professional careers in administrator because what it taught me is that you have to keep pushing forward and sometimes things don’t move as fast as you want to. You’ve got to get the right people in the right seats on the bus. It taught me a lot of good things that I was glad that I had another one that I liked. Early in my teaching career, it was The Power of Positive Thinking by Zig Ziglar. Having that mindset continuously helps to shape and frame everything that you do.

[bctt tweet=”The things that we’ve gone through are probably the fuel for the fire.” username=”upandcomersshow”]

The next one is what new habit or belief has most positively impacted you or your life?

That’s easy. Having hope is a mindset and a belief. The person that taught me was my little Braden who went through everything that he went through and every day had a smile. Every day, he could be feeling bad and sick, and still he would smile and tell me that he loved me. That was enough.

The final question that we ask every guest that comes on. If you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say and why? It can be a short message they get from you each and every morning.

I’ll stick with my theme. I would say two words, have hope.

Deliece, this has been awesome. Thank you for coming on and sharing your heart, your life, your experiences and a bit of your family and your story. It’s been powerful.

Thanks for inviting me. This was awesome.

If people want to connect with you, where is a good place to go or find out more about the work you’re doing?

If you go to the website, there’s a contact button on the website. You can go there or you can find me on Facebook too.

It’s been great. We are grateful for the work you’re doing. Until next time, thanks for coming on.

Thanks for having me.

We hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.

If you would like to get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that’d be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering, or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In-Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the next one. Each edition of In-Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once a month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.

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About Deliece Hofen

UAC 170 | Hope Is PossiblePresident of Braden’s Hope For Childhood Cancer, Speaker, Leader, Former Educator/ Principal/Director of Human Resources, Lucky Mom, Runner, Cancer Survivor, Momcologist, and an extremely Determined, Hopeful, and Grateful Person.

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